As 2023 approaches, the effects of the law mandating identifiable donation on those who are donor-conceived are the subject of renewed debate. From next year, those turning 18 in the UK who were conceived using donated gametes after 1 April 2005 will be able to request identifying information about the donor. Yet much in general remains unknown about the experiences and perspectives of donor-conceived people, both in relation to and in addition to the impact of the law. In our new nationwide research study, we are interested in hearing the perspectives of all adults who are donor-conceived in the UK and how being donor conceived might relate to one's wellbeing, identity, and social experiences.
Although research directly exploring the perspectives of people who are donor-conceived is still relatively rare, important insights have been gained in the past few decades. Studies exploring adolescents' perspectives in the USA and in the UK, respectively published in the journals Children and Society and Human Reproduction, have found that the majority of the teenagers who participated were interested in their donor. The adolescents in these two studies were generally aware of their donor conception since childhood and mostly had been conceived using an anonymous donor. An earlier study published in Human Reproduction of adolescents with identifiable donors reported that the adolescents who took part mainly felt comfortable about being donor conceived, and many planned to exercise their right to access information at some point in the future. Similarly, another survey published in Human Reproduction of donor-conceived adolescents searching for their donor and/or those conceived using the same donor found that curiosity motivated their search.
Regarding the experiences of donor-conceived adults, research findings have been more mixed. One study published in the Journal of Family Communication points to the complexities of donor-conceived individuals' experiences, highlighting that donor-conceived adults sometimes express both positive and negative feelings about their conception. Some research findings outlined in Human Reproduction in 2000 suggested that learning about being donor conceived later in life or in an unexpected way may be particularly difficult. More recent work published in Human Reproduction in 2020 and Reproductive Biomedicine Online in 2021 found that – like in adolescence – curiosity played a large part in donor-conceived adults' feelings about their donor, and that they were interested in finding out more information. These studies were conducted in the USA and Australia, respectively.
However, despite some important, relatively recent research, including papers published in Human Fertility and BioSocieties, there has yet to be a systematic study of the perspectives of donor-conceived adults in the UK. Much also remains to be explored in terms of how other identities might intersect with experiences of being donor conceived, or relate to the groups and communities a person is connected to, or how being donor conceived might influence other parts of a person's life, such as one's wellbeing, relationships, and friendships.
Our study, the WISE survey, is a nationwide survey with two main aims: firstly, to study the well-being and experiences of young adults with different family and social circumstances, and secondly, to explore in-depth the experiences of donor-conceived adults of all ages. Our study has a particular focus on the experiences of young adults. Understood as the period between the ages of 18-30, the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, in his book 'Identity, Youth, and Crisis', asserted that a person's identity is consolidated during young adulthood, especially as a person relates different aspects of their life, such as work, friendships, and other relationships, to their sense of who they are. Among people who are adopted, interest in exploring that aspect of identity is theorised to heighten during young adulthood, as outlined in the book chapter 'Adoption Narratives: The Construction of Adoptive Identity During Adolescence'. Our study aims to explore whether, and how, being donor conceived may also relate to identity exploration during this developmental period.
Alongside studying this important life stage, the significance of the perspectives of donor-conceived people of all ages must not be overlooked. Particularly at a time when practitioners may be focused on 2023 and its implications, it is important to remember that the experiences of people who were donor-conceived before changes were made in 2005 in the UK and are now adults are in a very different legal position, and may have no legal access to information about the donor, or legal access to non-identifying information only. Our survey explores the experiences of these adults with varying levels of access to information.
The WISE survey is part of a larger ESRC-funded project being led by Dr Sophie Zadeh at the Thomas Coram Research Unit, University College London. The first part of the project, involving in-depth interviews with people who are donor-conceived, informed the scope and design of the survey. We have worked alongside staff at the Donor Conception Network and volunteers at the Donor Conceived Register to design the survey.
You can take part if you are donor-conceived and aged over 18 and live in the UK. People who are not donor-conceived and are aged 18-30 are also invited to take part. Taking part involves answering questionnaires on an anonymous online survey. We hope that the findings will lead to increased understanding of experiences of being donor conceived and the creation of new support resources and recommendations for policy.