What are the risks of sperm donation?

What should a potential sperm donor know in advance of donating sperm?  This TOL Brief is both a must-watch for anyone considering sperm donation as well as a fascinating thought experiment for those interested in how law is applied to cutting-edge technologies.

In under two minutes, Harvard Law Professor, I. Glenn Cohen explains the benefits of anonymous donation and points out how the law treats donations differently when there is a doctor or hospital involved.  And perhaps most importantly, the professor breaks down the legal risks (e.g. child support) as they relate to sperm donors.


 Glenn Cohen is a professor of law at Harvard Law School. He is one of the world's leading experts on the intersection of bioethics and the law, as well as health law.

Additional Resources

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School was founded in 2005 through a generous gift from Joseph H. Flom and the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation.  The Center’s founding mission was to promote interdisciplinary analysis and legal scholarship in these fields.

For more information about Prof. Cohen, click here.

What are the risks of sperm donation? Brief Transcript

Glenn Cohen: So imagine you're thinking about becoming a sperm donor. What do you have to think about in terms of law?

Welcome to Talks On Law. I’m Glenn Cohen. I’m a professor at Harvard Law School who specializes in the law and ethics relating to medicine. And today, I’m going to talk a little about sperm donation and the disposition of sperm and embryos.

Your first choice is whether to become a known or an anonymous sperm donor. To become an anonymous sperm donor, at least in the United States, you're the most protected from somebody seeking to name you as the father after the fact for child support. Let’s say you instead decide to become a known sperm donor. Maybe there's a friend of yours who's asked for your sperm. What should you do to protect yourself in this circumstance? Well the law varies from state to state. The major things are, if possible, try to donate to a married individual rather than an unmarried individual. Try to have a physician involved because insemination done by a licensed physician is often given more protection than at-home insemination. And try to limit the amount of post-pregnancy contact you have with the child, because there have been cases where by attending birthday parties, forming a relationship with the child, the law has treated you as the de facto parent. Lastly, try to have an agreement reviewed by a lawyer put in place to protect you and declare you not the parent. But know that there have been some states where even though you have this agreement in place, under certain circumstances, they'll still hold you to be the legal father. And I’m Glenn Cohen, thanks for watching Talks On Law.