A friend was researching using a sperm donor she knows to do IVF. she got concerned when she read this website's legal 'advice' They basically say that unlike most states PA has no law that says a sperm donor is not considered the legal father if he donates through a clinic, and lacking such a law the situation comes down to case law which will be ruled based off of the specifics of the case; with the clear implication that even donating at a doctor offices has a high chance to lead to the sperm donor being considered the legal father.

What they fail to mention is that the case law in this situation seems pretty clear, as there is already a ruling stating that a donation through a clinic does not make a sperm donor the legal father.

So unless I'm misunderstanding what looks to be a pretty clear cut example of case law it would seem that the legal office's website is quite misleading, and likely this is done intentionally as fear mongering to scare people into using their legal office to have a contract written up to protect them. This is extra ironic because as far as I can tell by scanning the previous brief it looks like PA case law falls strongly on the side of not respecting donor contracts (though I haven't fully researched the fact, the presidents the brief cites definitely support the idea that parent's can't sign away their child's right), so it seems like the firm is misleading people about the law so they can offer to write contracts that likely won't be respected.

I know the website is not technically lying in what they say, but it seems intentional misleading. I doubt a legal firm would break the law so blatantly, so I assume the claims on the website must be legal. However, that surprises me since what little I do know about common law situations it seems like 'technical truths' that are intentionally misleading usually are treated as falsehoods in other situations, for instance slander/libel laws or contract rulings trying to emphasis intent of contract instead of just the letter of the contract.

So, why is a claim like this allowed? Is this either not as clear cut a lie of omission as it seems to be to me, or are such lies by omission actually allowed?

2 Answers 2


Let's look at what they say:

Pennsylvania does not have any statutory laws governing assisted reproductive technology.


Pennsylvania’s laws regarding sperm donors come only from case law that are specific to the facts of the case being considered by the court.

True and trivial given the previous sentence.

Pennsylvania courts have found sperm donor contracts to be legally enforceable.

True, that's what Ferguson v McKiernan says in the first paragraph of the decision.

Your statement that "PA case law falls strongly on the side of not respecting donor contracts" is, at least as far as the case you cite, flatly wrong. In other cases, the contract may or may not be enforcable indeed the court agrees with this specifically:

Although locating future cases on this spectrum may call upon courts to draw very fine lines, courts are no strangers to such tasks, and the instant case, which we must resolve, is not nearly so difficult.

This also directly supports the previous sentence.

Therefore, even if you go through a fertility clinic, a contract between the donor and the intended parents would need to be in place before the conception.

True, this is exactly what Ferguson v McKiernan says. You assert that Ferguson v McKiernan says "donation through a clinic does not make a sperm donor the legal father", however, it doesn't say that at all.

The status of the doner as the father was never an issue - both parties agreed that he was the biological father and the court accepted that. What was at issue is if he had the rights and obligations of a father that had been removed by the contract.

The lower courts held that the contract was unenforcable as being contrary to public policy because it removed rights from the children who were not parties to the contract. However, the State Supreme Court held that the contract was enforcable.


What they say on their website is not misleading.


The other answer seems to have looked into --and clarified-- the specific instance you detailed. But I want to address your question in general.

Is a lie by ommission to make it seem like a legal offices services are required legal?

are such lies by omission actually allowed?

Strictly speaking, no. In theory, it is illegal in jurisdictions that have legislative provisions akin to MCL 445.903(n):

(1) Unfair, unconscionable, or deceptive methods, acts, or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce are unlawful and are defined as follows:

(n) Causing a probability of confusion or of misunderstanding as to the legal rights, obligations, or remedies of a party to a transaction.

(emphasis added)

In reality, though, it will be hard for a plaintiff to prevail on a lawsuit pursuant to that legislation. Hence the importance for people to do their own legal research rather than surrender their savings in blind reliance on some attorney's statements.

Keep in mind that inaccuracies in an article might stem from the publisher's ineptitude just as much as from deliberate omission. An attorney-defendant is much likelier to allege some form of ineptitude (which he will sugarcoat in trying to preserve his authorization to practice law) than to admit that his misrepresentations were intentional.

A sued lawyer could also allege that merely broadcasting or posting an article (whether or not its author is misinformed) does not create a fiduciary duty between the attorney and a prospective client. Unless you retained that attorney, he would allege that you were not harmed by him because he was under no obligation to validate the accuracy of his statements. Depending on the exact words of his inaccurate article, he could viably allege that his wording reflects his subjective opinion rather than an objective statement of the law.

Even a law firm's scary or pressing suggestions that you "need" its services might fall short of being actionable because you are not coerced to retain his services. The lawyer will allege that you could have (1) opted to retain other law firm instead of the one which published the alarming article, and/or (2) gotten a second opinion.

I doubt a legal firm would break the law so blatantly

Many attorneys incur malpractice or break the law, and some of them are sanctioned. For instances in Michigan, see these notices from the Attorney Discipline Board.

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