Research into practice

This article draws on three recent studies1 of the
views of people conceived following donor insemination and supports
recent calls for a change in UK law to allow people born as a
result of donor conception to learn more about their genetic

The studies by Turner and Coyle, and Hewitt draw on an
international network of donor-conceived children and adults, most
of whom have discovered the truth of their origins comparatively
late in life or in unplanned or less than ideal circumstances or
both. Most of these people had little information about their donor
and were unlikely ever to learn his identity.

The third study, in contrast, studied the experiences of young
people aged between 12 and 17 who had been told about their origins
at a young age and are in a position to learn the identity of their

These studies provide evidence that:

  • Donor-conceived children can be informed about their origins in
    sensitive and age-appropriate ways without damaging family
  • People learning earlier about their origins are able to
    accommodate this information more readily than those told later.
    Those told later often wish they had been informed earlier – and
    frequently comment on feeling that information had been withheld
    from them and that they had an awareness of “difference” about
    themselves and their families.
  • Appropriate disclosure is not a one-off event, but a process
    developing over time.
  • Inadvertent or poorly-managed disclosure may generate negative
    feelings about the concealment of this information and may damage
    family relationships.
  • Lack of information about the donor leads to frustration and
    identity problems for many donor-conceived people and may be a
    barrier to some parents being open since they feel ill-prepared for
    any further questions that may be generated by disclosure. Some
    donor-conceived people consider that only knowledge of the donor’s
    identity will help them to make sense of their own identity and
    that this information is their fundamental civil right.
  • Most donor-conceived people who are able to discover the
    donor’s identity indicate an interest in doing so, but they are not
    interested in knowing their donor as a substitute parent nor with a
    view to making financial or emotional demands on him.
  • An individual donor may have contributed to the creation of
    more than one donor-conceived child and may also have a child or
    children of his or her own. Some donor-conceived people have
    indicated a wish to identify and locate any siblings they may

The parallels between the experiences of donor-conceived people
and adopted people denied information about their genetic origins
are self-evident. At present, UK law protects donor anonymity, and
consequently prevents the identification of other genetic
relatives. The government is considering whether this law should be
changed. While there are unsubstantiated claims that the
identification of donors might jeopardise the supply of sperm for
donation, the evidence from donor-conceived people is that such
pragmatic considerations, even if they were to be substantiated,
should not be allowed to trump the case for disclosure and

Eric Blyth is professor of social work at the University of

1 AJ Turner and A Coyle, “What does it mean to be a
donor offspring? The identity experiences of adults conceived by
donor insemination”, Human Reproduction, Vol 15 (9), 2000;
G Hewitt, Missing Links, unpublished personal interest
project, East Hills Girls Technology High School, Sydney, 2001;
Sperm Bank of California, “Identity-release research”,
Newsletter, Vol vii (3), 2001.

2 See J Feast, “Misconceived secrecy”, Community
e 4-10 July, 2002

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