recent case in which a woman called for legal changes to prevent men from
donating sperm without their wife's consent (reported in BioNews 671) has already drawn interesting
responses from Anna Smajdor (BioNews 675) and Stevienna de Saille (BioNews 677).
debates about whether gametes may be regarded as 'marital assets' - the same
logic would apply if a wife chose to donate her eggs - fail to capture the essence
of the woman's sense of injustice. The whole point is 'What do we tell the
children in question aren't the donor-conceived children; they may but, statistically
speaking, probably will not be told be told of their origins. Rather, the
question is what to tell the donor's other offspring, who may include other 'artificially'
conceived half siblings or, in cases of embryo donation, full siblings.
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 did many good things, but in one
aspect it was disastrously misguided. Perhaps the ending of donor anonymity impacted
on people's willingness to donate, but the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Authority's decision to increase the limits on compensation paid to gamete
donors does suggest that they felt that altruism needed a little bolstering after
anonymity was lost.
requirement for parents of donor-conceived children to tell their offspring of
their genetic provenance was shelved in the face of practical difficulties (and
the added complexity that probably five percent of all conceptions are the
result of non-paternity, or 'unofficial' sperm donation).
if parents of donor-conceived children face a dilemma over 'telling', donors
who are parents of other children face a much greater one. The central
asymmetry of the Act allows a donor-conceived person at the age of 18 to access
identifying information about their genetic parent or parents - and hence their
children, if any. But the other children of the donor have no such reciprocal
right to access information about their half or full siblings, even though
their parents will know how many there are, what year they were born in and
whether they are boys or girls.
people who have offered to become donors have asked for guidance about what
they should tell their children, even if they haven't had them yet. If they don't
tell their children that they have half brothers and half sisters 'out there'
and then one of these gets in touch when they turn 18, what could this do to
the family and its sense of trust?
if they do tell and none of the donor-conceived children ever tries to make
contact, doesn't that leave the donor's own children in exactly the same sad
and incomplete place that the legislation was so keen to rescue the donor-conceived
from? For they have no rights to information at all beyond the number, year and
gender information available to the donor parent.
could be argued that the donors will not ask for information about the outcome
of their donations, but actually many do want to know and
there is no statute of limitations on when they can ask! I am dreading the
counselling implications of people who were altruistic donors in their youth
and then never went on to have the family they once imagined. They may well
return to the clinic to find out, many years later, what became of their eggs
would-be donors are quite disappointed when they are told that it is unlikely
that they will be contacted by their genetic offspring in the future. Many are
surprised that the information they can receive is so limited. Disentangling
motivation in human relations is difficult at the best of times and I am still
saddened and taken aback when a woman who has used donor sperm to conceive sends
in a photo of her child 'to be passed on to the donor so he can see what a
beautiful daughter he has'.
what sense does he 'have a daughter'? In what sense does she 'have a father' in
the sperm donor? And yet, in 15 years' time, they may both consider that as the
tabloid press is full of stories of the offspring of 'one-night stands' meeting
their genetic dads and finding at best, joy and, at least, some answers. Today's
would-be recipients of donor gametes probably have more information about the
other parent than those 'accidental' mums.
Family structures today are
extremely complex and our progressive legislation facilitates the creation of all
sorts of families that previously never existed. Surrogate births, posthumous
births, single, gay and lesbian parenting are all possible and bring much loved
and wanted children into the world, but we must remember to consider the
welfare (and that means rights to information) not only of the child that 'might
be born' but also of 'any child that might be affected by the birth'.