Donor debate is too polarised

Despite media speculation that donor anonymity was about to be
removed, the government announcement in January was less
spectacular. A decision on the matter of anonymity would not be
made for a further six months, while research is undertaken in
countries where donor anonymity has already been lifted.

The argument is often polarised as the rights of donor-conceived
people to know about their origins versus the impact on donor
recruitment. The evidence from Australia, New Zealand and Sweden
shows that donor-conception programmes dependent on identifiable
donors are sustainable. It could also be said that removing donor
anonymity might reduce choice for some people who would eschew
donor conception rather than having a child through known donation.

Since parents are not obliged to tell their child about her or his
conception, it is hard to see how removing donor anonymity would
compromise the reproductive choice of parents who are determined
not to tell their child how they were conceived. But, the converse
may be true – some who may want to provide an identifiable donor
for their child are either forced to embrace a system of donor
conception in whose principles they do not believe, discount donor
conception as a possible option or, if they can afford it, seek a
service from US agencies that use identifiable donors.

We hear little from the people who owe their existence to donor
conception. It may be that the secret of their conception has been
successfully withheld from them. It may be that they know and don’t
care. But what we also know is that an increasing number of
donor-conceived people are indicating that they do care. Their
rights to information about their origins have been supported by
the interim judgement in the High Court case of Rose and Another
versus secretary of state for health and Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority, and the more recent criticisms of the UK’s
policy on donor anonymity by the United Nations Committee on the
Rights of the Child.

The Department of Health says that “there is a strong argument in
principle for children conceived using donated sperm, eggs or
embryos being able to find out the identity of their donor”. So far
there have been no principled or compelling counter-claims that
would stop donor-conceived people from learning the identity of
their donor.

Eric Blyth is a professor of social work at the University
of Huddersfield.

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