A judge has refused to order disclosure of the name of a sperm donor, ruling that his right to privacy outweighs a woman's legal claim that the semen was infected with a virus.
Orange County Superior Court Commissioner Ronald L. Bauer decided that disclosure was not justified, a ruling that reflects ethical standards developed in the last year by the medical community.
Betty Lou Brau said in a lawsuit that she was artificially inseminated at the Fertility Center of California in Santa Ana. She developed cytomegalovirus, commonly found in 60% of the adult population and a cause of birth defects in the unborn.
As part of her lawsuit against the center, she sought to force disclosure of the name of the donor, suggesting that the semen might have been the source of her infection.
The decision was hailed by the center's director.
"Everybody welcomes it," said Herlinda Sullivan. "I got calls from other Southern California (sperm) banks. We expected it, but we are pleased."
Sullivan and other sperm bank operators and fertility experts from across the nation had said any breach of the routine confidentiality contracts signed by banks and donors could have halted operations, which often provide the last hope for infertile couples who want children.
Sullivan said the threat of disclosure has had no adverse effect on business.
"We have a good reputation, and, actually, business has been better," Sullivan said. "More people are aware that we're here who didn't know."
Brau's attorney, Charles R. Weldon, said he will appeal. He said it is "imperative" that he discover the donor's identity.
In his written opinion issued Wednesday, Bauer noted that the donor had been promised anonymity.
Brau herself, when she sought insemination, "anticipated absolute privacy of the donor," according to Bauer. She signed a document agreeing to anonymity before her first insemination, Bauer wrote.
Bauer noted that the disease is carried by "a majority of adults" and found that information about the donor would provide little evidence of the source of her infection.
Bauer suggested that the donor's right to privacy is not necessarily absolute but that disclosure requires "a more compelling showing of need and relevancy."