Posted on November 16, 2018

Home DNA Tests Doom Anonymity for Sperm, Egg Donors

Ivan Couronne, Medical Express, November 16, 2018


The year was 2005, when consumer DNA tests were in their infancy. {snip}

Thirteen years later, the explosion of individual DNA test kits has opened the floodgates for people who were born from sperm or egg donations. Increasing numbers of people are using the technology to uncover the identities of their donors.

In the growing field of assisted reproduction, donors used to be guaranteed anonymity.


“It would be naive to think that a person could donate sperm or eggs and stay anonymous in the United States,” said Moore. “It isn’t going to happen.”

Now, even if they never send their own DNA to a consumer ancestry site, donors can be identified indirectly by their genetic proximity to a distant cousin who took a DNA test.

With at least 10 million people having taken a DNA test in the United States alone, probability alone suggests that nearly all the population could be linked somehow to one of the registered profiles online.


Extended family

The four DNA websites that offer match services — Ancestry, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, My Heritage — today have so many users that it is rare for someone not to find at least one distant relative.

From that second or third degree cousin, traditional genealogy tools can be employed to rebuild a family tree up to the shared ancestor, such as vital records, death notices and obituaries, census records, or newspaper archives.

Then, the possible donor can often be nailed down by elimination based on sex, age and location. The more public records there are, the faster the search.


Banned in France

Between 2015 and 2017, sales of DNA test kits boomed in the United States and allowed websites to build a critical mass of DNA profiles.


In the US, there are no restrictions. In Britain, a maximum is set at 10 families per donor.

The US case points to a future where anonymity laws in other countries regarding egg and sperm donations may become moot.

France, for instance, is now debating whether to end anonymity for donations. The law is currently strict there, and consumer DNA tests are banned.

But it is not hard to get around the ban, and in theory it would only take a few hundred thousand profiles to start to get matches.

It is already the case in Britain and, to a lesser extent, in the Netherlands, Moore said.