Anonymity of Sperm and Egg Donors
Should donors in cases of assisted conception be covered by anonymity, or should the children involved have the right to know who their biological parents really are? Should the name of the donor be recorded on the birth certificate?
Please cast your vote after you've read the arguments.
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Children have a right to know who their real parents are. This is already the case with adoption, w...
Children have a right to know who their real parents are. This is already the case with adoption, where anyone has the right to see a copy of their birth certificate when they are 18, giving them the choice to find out about, and perhaps meet their biological parents. The UK law gives donor children equality with adopted children, and should be followed by other countries. Putting this policy in place encourages parents to be honest with children in their early years, because they know that at 18 they can find out the truth, especially if the policy of lifting anonymity is extended to putting both biological parents’ names on the birth certificate.
There is no absolute right to know who your parents are. To start with, the concept of parenthood in the context of donor-assisted conception is complicated. Is someone who donated an egg or some sperm really a parent? Shouldn’t parent mean the one who cared for you as a baby, got up in the night for you, saw you through teething and childhood illnesses, and worked hard to give you food, shelter and the best life they were able to provide? Given that donors never actually meet the real parents or the actual children, the situation is not at all like adoption or even surrogacy. It is more like blood donation, and should also give the recipient no rights over the donor.\
Secondly, conception and family life have never been tidy affairs, defined by clear rights and rules. Many children are conceived through one-night stands and never know their fathers – should they have the right to access a DNA database of the whole male population in order to find them? What about children conceived as a result of rape? And what about children conceived through infidelity, where the husband and the child are led by the mother wrongly to believe that they are biologically related?
Removing anonymity will meet a psychological need to know where we come from and why we look and act...
Removing anonymity will meet a psychological need to know where we come from and why we look and act the way we do. Scientific discoveries make it clear that genetics plays a very strong part in forming our character and characteristics, and many donor-conceived children naturally want to seek the truth about their origins. A fear of incest also drives this need to know, especially when children are themselves considering marriage and starting a family. There are also strong medical reasons to know who your biological mother or father is, as many illnesses (e.g. some cancers) have strong genetic components. The law can make it clear that donor fathers and mothers have no financial or legal responsibility for any children conceived with their sperm or egg. But they have a responsibility to allow any child conceived through their donation to contact them later in search of vital medical information.
People may wish to find out who their biological father is, but it is not always a good idea. Their quest for the “truth” may pull apart their real family, hurting the parents who poured so much love and effort into bringing them into the world and then bringing them up to adulthood. It may leave the child themselves confused and rootless, especially if they can’t ultimately track down their biological donor-parent, or if they do and the person doesn’t want to know them, or doesn’t match their imaginings. And what about the effect on the donor themselves, eighteen or more years on from their brief session in a clinic cubicle? What impact might it have on them psychologically, especially if they now have a real family of their own? And although the law now may say that a child of assisted-conception has no legal or financial claim on the donor, who can say what rights a future court might not discover?\
Nor is the medical argument a strong reason for lifting anonymity. Donors can provide full medical records, even a DNA sample, before they provide sperm or eggs. That is more information than many patients have about a parent, and does not require the full identity of the donor to be revealed.\
The UK policy of removing anonymity has not affected the number of sperm donors negatively. The num...
The UK policy of removing anonymity has not affected the number of sperm donors negatively. The numbers had fallen for three years to 2005, when anonymity was lifted, but increased somewhat in the two years following. The number of egg donors is down somewhat, but the reasons for this are complicated and may have much more to do with wider issues of publicity and incentives than with anonymity.
For the reasons above, few would-be sperm or egg donors wish to be known to any children resulting from their donation. Removing anonymity is therefore a major deterrent, especially as in most countries little money is paid for sperm donations (more is paid for eggs because the procedure is much more intrusive and unpleasant for a female donor). It was widely predicted that removing anonymity in the UK would result in a fall in donations, and this has in fact happened for both eggs and sperm – despite government claims that sperm donors have increased, the number of actual donations has crucially gone down. If the donor name were to appear on the actual birth certificate of any child, it is obvious that even fewer people will be prepared to donate. Given the desperation of infertile couples seeking assistance with conception, and the long waiting lists for both eggs and sperm, the predictable consequence of this policy is both lamentable and cruel.
Clearly the government cannot stop women and couples going overseas in search of anonymously-donated...
Clearly the government cannot stop women and couples going overseas in search of anonymously-donated eggs and sperm, but this isn’t a reason to abandon the policy of transparency at home. Firstly, most couples will trust their own health system much more than foreign ones with fewer safeguards, so they won’t want to go abroad. Secondly, seeking a donor abroad is a much more expensive business, so most people will not pursue it. And finally, as more and more governments see the wisdom of this policy and lift anonymity, fertility tourism will become pointless anyway.
Because lifting anonymity makes it so much more difficult to conceive a child through the government’s regulated health care system, desperate couples will be driven to look for alternatives. Women will be tempted to seek sperm informally from male friends (the Do-It-Yourself “turkey baster” approach). Couples will go abroad as “fertility tourists”, seeking eggs and sperm in countries where donors can still remain anonymous. Such consequences are clearly bad for everyone, being unregulated, often emotionally messy, and possibly even dangerous. They also make it much less likely that parents will be honest with their children about their origins, defeating the whole point of the policy.
It would be wrong to force parents to tell their children exactly how they were conceived, but the s...
It would be wrong to force parents to tell their children exactly how they were conceived, but the state should not itself play a part in any deception. Through its health system and regulators, the state plays a part in donor-assisted conception. The birth certificate is an official document, and must honestly reflect what the state knows to be true. Allowing some parents to hide this truth from their children amounts to a conspiracy between them and the state and cannot be justified. Given the complications involved, perhaps the names of all the parties involved (biological parents, birth mother and nurturing parents) should appear on the birth certificate.
This argument assumes that the truth is always told on birth certificates at the moment. Unless the government is going to institute a programme of compulsory nationwide DNA testing, putting the “truth” on every birth certificate is not attainable and probably not desirable. This argument also makes big assumptions about what constitutes a father, placing the unmet donor who will have nothing to do with the upbringing of the baby above the caring partner who is committing to its care. The definition of mother is even weaker in the case of egg donation, as the birth-mother’s placental environment plays so strong a part in the development of the foetus she has nurtured in her womb for nine months, and laboured to bring safely into the world.
Many of the objections to lifting anonymity from sperm and egg donation assume there is some stigma ...
Many of the objections to lifting anonymity from sperm and egg donation assume there is some stigma attached to the process. But any shame that people might feel in using a donor, being a donor, or being conceived through donation actually derives from the secrecy surrounding the donation system. Lifting anonymity and encouraging parents to be completely honest with their children about their origins will help remove this stigma. This will in itself make more people willing to become donors and parents more confident in telling children who they really are. Donors should be appreciated by society for what they have done, and should take pride in any children their gift has helped to bring into the world.
In many cases it may be good for children of donor-assisted conceptions to know all about their origins, and to meet their biological father or mother. All the parties involved may be happy with the outcome. Parents should even be encouraged to be open and honest with their children, as the parents of adopted children already are. But this isn’t going to be right for everyone, all of the time, and it should not be forced on people. Why does this have to be a blanket policy, enforced by the state? Why can’t donors decide if they want to be anonymous or not? Why not let would-be parents decide what kind of donor to use, and what to tell their particular family?
What do you think?