For some time now, sperm banks and scientific breakthroughs, like IVF, have made it possible for same-sex couples and people challenged with fertility woes to start a family. Now, a new German law about the rights of sperm donors is making it easier than ever for single women and same-sex couples to start a family without any legal hang-ups.
Located in the heart of Berlin, the Berliner Samenbank collects sperm donations for future mothers. It’s one of two sperm banks in Berlin and part of just 10 banks across Germany. For some couples in Germany, travelling to a Berlin sperm bank, like Berliner Samenbank, was their only option. This is because each federal state in Germany has separate doctors associations with individual guidelines and, while these aren’t legally binding, they can act as a confusing legal grey area. These grey areas have created barriers for many lesbian couples and single women wanting to access the services of sperm banks across Germany. Apart from Berlin, where both the guidelines and the doctors have always had a more liberal stance when it comes to inseminating lesbian couples.
The process and services offered by sperm banks are both comprehensive and expensive. At Berliner Samenbank, the base cost is €1800 and potential mothers first fill out a questionnaire about the physical features they’re looking for in a donor. Often sending in pictures of themselves and their partner, some opt for celebrity pictures as well. The team then generates a list of potential donors from their 200 registered candidates. The list details each donor’s height, weight, ethnic background, profession and hobbies, and, for an extra €100, future mothers can also buy a ‘self-assessment’, including the potential donor’s values and life goals. This procedure has been available to partnered women since 1986.
However, for single women and lesbian couples, there were still many obstacles and risks to accessing these services, as the sperm donor, or even the doctor who performed the insemination, could be named as the child’s legal father, law suits for child support could ensue. Since the 1990s, many doctors have taken this risk with lesbian couples without any issues. However, they have been waiting for further legal clarity and security before opening up insemination to single women. The new German law provides stronger legal boundaries for mothers and has allowed single women, as well as partnered women, to gain access to sperm banks.
The law that was proposed last year, will come into effect on July 1, this year. It strips the donors and doctors of parental rights or obligations by ensuring that neither can be identified. The law also states that whenever a child is born from a sperm donor, the donor’s identity has to be documented with a federal agency for 110 years, when previously it only had to be stored for 30. Children of donors in Germany also have the right to request this information once they turn 16, down from 18 years old in the past. For the donors themselves, they still have no way of knowing if their sperm fathered a child once they make a deposit. This change in law has made the legal situation far clearer for both donors and recipients and it couldn’t come at better time, as the demand for sperm banks from single women is on the rise.