Past sperm and egg donors split on losing anonymity

NEW YORK Fri Dec 20, 2013 1:30pm EST

Related Topics

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who donated sperm and eggs before 1998 in one Australian state were able to remain anonymous, but potential new laws could have changed that. A recent study found those donors were split on the idea of possible contact from their donor children.

Victoria, Australia introduced legislation to ban anonymous sperm and egg donation in 1998.

"This means that donor-conceived children who were born after 1998 have a legal right to access information about their donor," Karin Hammarberg told Reuters Health by email.

Hammarberg is a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at Monash University in Melbourne.

It was also suggested that the government change the law to allow everyone conceived through sperm and egg donations to find information about their donor - including pre-1998 donors who thought they could stay anonymous, she said.

But before deciding, the government wanted to ask people who donated in the past how they would feel about no longer being anonymous, and reached out to Monash University researchers.

During early 2013, Hammarberg and her colleagues interviewed 42 people who had donated eggs or sperm anonymously before 1998.

Just under half of the donors supported the recommendation to retrospectively remove their anonymity. They emphasized the needs of donor-conceived people to understand who their biological parents are.

Some of those people also suggested donors should have access to identifying details about their donor offspring, according to findings published in Human Reproduction.

The rest of the donors rejected the recommendation, saying it would violate the terms of a contract and undermine trust in privacy and confidentiality guarantees. Many of them thought revealing their identities to donor children would harm them and their families.

About half of the donors who rejected the recommendation were themselves willing to supply information to their donor offspring. They suggested the compromise of persuading donors to voluntarily release information to donor-conceived people. Many of them also thought parents should be encouraged to tell their children about their donor conception, and some thought it should be required.

It's impossible to know if the views of these 42 donors represent the views of all Australians who donated eggs or sperm before 1998, the researchers noted.

In August 2013, the Victorian government considered the survey findings. Although acknowledging the right of donor-conceived people to have information about their donors, the government decided identifying information should only be released with a donor's consent.

"The balancing of donors' and donor-conceived people's rights requires utmost sensitivity. All over the world, increasing numbers of donor-conceived people are reaching adulthood. Of those who have been told that they were conceived with the help of a donor, some are likely to have a strong wish to know the identity of their donors," Hammarberg said.

"Legislators and policy-makers in jurisdictions where anonymous (egg and sperm) donations are permitted and practiced will need to respond when these desires are expressed," she added.

The United States doesn't regulate donor identity like Australia or other countries that have fairly high usage of reproductive technologies, Judith Daar told Reuters Health.

Daar is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Ethics Committee and has appointments at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California and the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. She was not involved in the new study.

"We don't have any federal laws that govern donor identity in any way and only one state, Washington, a few years ago enacted a law that permits donor-conceived offspring to have access to their donors when they reach 18," Daar said.

"But that law also permits donors to opt out of this disclosure," she said. So donors can still choose to remain anonymous.

The ethical considerations of egg and sperm donor anonymity are complicated, researchers said.

"Those in favor of non-anonymity or mandatory identification rules tend to argue from the perspective of the rights of the child that's born and talk about the right to know your genetic origin or right to have contact with the genetic parent," Glenn Cohen told Reuters Health.

Cohen is co-director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was not involved in the Australian study.

Occasionally people will talk about the interests of the egg or sperm donors or the egg or sperm recipients' parents, Cohen added.

But, he said, the U.S. has a robust network of donation banks that work under open identification principles. So anybody who wants to donate under non-anonymous conditions and parents who want to ensure their children have access can do so.

Cohen said there's evidence that requiring donor identification will lead to a reduction in the number of donors, resulting in longer waiting periods. On the other hand, his own research suggests doubling the compensation for donors can overcome their concerns for anonymity.

SOURCE: bit.ly/1cCNfyr Human Reproduction, online December 6, 2013.

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
ml66uk wrote:
Changing things retrospectively is one thing, but anonymous donation shouldn’t be allowed moving forward. The donor-conceived, rather than the parents, clinics, or donors, are the people most directly affected by donor conception, and they are the ones who have to live with the consequences the longest. They also seem to be mostly against donor anonymity, and secrecy surrounding donor conception. Some don’t care, but there’s no way for anyone to tell whether their child will want to know who the donor is or not, so they should always have the choice. Why should an infertile couple’s desire to have a child override a donor-conceived person’s desire to know the identity of their genetic father?

If a sperm donor wants to be anonymous, then he simply shouldn’t be a sperm donor. I was a sperm donor over 20 years ago, and if I have any genetic children looking for me, I’ve made it as easy as possible for them to find me.

Countries that have already ended donor anonymity include the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand. Why not the USA?

According to HFEA figures, the numbers of UK sperm donors have gone *up* six years in a row since the ending of anonymity btw, thus reversing a three year decline. The 480 donors in 2010 was the highest figure since they started keeping records, and more than double the figure in 2004 just before anonymity ended.

Some “anonymous” donors have been identified using DNA and genealogical databases, so it`s no longer possible for anyone to guarantee a donor that they will remain anonymous anyway.

Dec 21, 2013 1:35pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ml66uk wrote:
Changing things retrospectively is one thing, but anonymous donation shouldn’t be allowed moving forward. The donor-conceived, rather than the parents, clinics, or donors, are the people most directly affected by donor conception, and they are the ones who have to live with the consequences the longest. They also seem to be mostly against donor anonymity, and secrecy surrounding donor conception. Some don’t care, but there’s no way for anyone to tell whether their child will want to know who the donor is or not, so they should always have the choice. Why should an infertile couple’s desire to have a child override a donor-conceived person’s desire to know the identity of their genetic father?

If a sperm donor wants to be anonymous, then he simply shouldn’t be a sperm donor. I was a sperm donor over 20 years ago, and if I have any genetic children looking for me, I’ve made it as easy as possible for them to find me.

Countries that have already ended donor anonymity include the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Switzerland, Austria and New Zealand. Why not the USA?

According to HFEA figures, the numbers of UK sperm donors have gone *up* six years in a row since the ending of anonymity btw, thus reversing a three year decline. The 480 donors in 2010 was the highest figure since they started keeping records, and more than double the figure in 2004 just before anonymity ended.

Some “anonymous” donors have been identified using DNA and genealogical databases, so it`s no longer possible for anyone to guarantee a donor that they will remain anonymous anyway.

Dec 21, 2013 2:55pm EST  --  Report as abuse
redwonder wrote:
Its kind of ridiculous that we have all these different rules and different sets of rights when it does not result in equal treatment for anyone. A donor is just a donor until their children are born. Why would they not be accountable for their offspring the same as every other person with offspring as a parent on their birth records. They are human their kids are human its a vital record, the government assumes people named on original birth records are actually the parents of the children named on them or they would not count that info as medically relevant when they report on the health of the population and fertility statistics garnered from birth records. Obviously we have a public health problem when our vital records make it looklike people who are too sick or old to reproduce are perfectly healthy and the ones that have the most children appear on the record to have no children at all. Kind of undermines all the tax dollars spent on medical research on heritable disease and birth defects countries report on based on birth certificate info makes it all pretty worthless if we can’t tell from the records which kids share the same parents because the records are all falsified. The system works when people with offspring follow the rules and are named as parents of their own offspring because then their offspring and their relatives all have access to one another’s vital records and they have legally recognized kinship. As soon as a parent is not named on a birth record the rights of an entire family fall apart and they are unaware of who they are related to. Add to that putting the wrong name on a record and you have people and their relatives thinking they are related when they actually are not. Nobody else with offspring has a right to privacy why should these guys? You made a baby and that makes you and your family have one more person connected to you and they all have a legal right to access one another’s information because knowing our relatives is a public health concern. Are these guys kids not human? Their relatives not human? Their fertility not count for statistical purposes? And why would their kids not deserve financial support from them? Why can’t they relinquish their parental obligations in court on the record? It’s just a black market adoption scheme that is all it is. A work around to get custody of other people’s kids without having to go to court and write it all down. Well that means that these people are denied the protections against being sold out of their families that legal adoption is suppose to offer minors. It does not always work and adoption is pretty broken too, but the starting point gets the bio parents to be accountable as parents on the record and makes them follow some ethical protocols if they are not going to raise their kids. I don’t think the original birth records should be altered in adoptions either. Just issue an adoption decree and the rights of people to access their relatives vital records and have full legally recognized kinship will never be undermined by the fact that the parent did not raise his or her offspring. It’s not their fault that the parent did not raise them, that fact should not alter legally recognized kinship or rights. They get kinship rights within their adoptive families an also step families. Writing down the truth hurts nobody. There is no special privacy for any other person with offspring there should be no donor exemption, its just a black market adoption scheme. If they don’t want to be accountable as parents for the offspring they create they should not have offspring they don’t take care of and if they don’t want to care for them, they can give them up for adoption the same way everyone else has to. We are over looking the very simple step of having people just follow one set of rules so their offspring will have equal rights. The first step is recognizing that their donor label should not impact their public health obligation to their kids once they are born. They are biological parents and no agreements or contracts or intentions can change that and there are simply rules they should be following to protect the rights and health of their whole family. Why would the kids they raise deserve to be treated better than the ones they don’t raise? What makes those kids deserve their financial support and the other kids not? The fact that he has a personal relationship with their mother? Love for your kids mother determines whether they deserve your financial support? Your name? Kinship in your family? If you don’t know or like your kid’s mom your kids are not really your kids? Their value and rights are entirely dependent upon whether or not you have a romantic relationship with their moms. That sounds really fair to the kids. Their value as human beings is based on whether their parents liked each other. If they did not like each other then they have to pretend to be the child of people who do like each other We are completely obsessed with the idea that only married people have kids and when unmarried people have kids those kids have to go work for the married people by pretending to be a child of their marriage. Its a cushy little slave gig, college tuition paid, riding lessons, private schools. All they have to do is pretend to be someone they are not and be excluded from their own family legally forever. They play along they have no choice.

Dec 22, 2013 12:24am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Pictures