Friday, December 14, 2012

Rolling back promises of anonymous donation

Over the years, a lot of donors have offered their sperm for fertility purposes on the condition that their identities remain anonymous.

This practice, for oocytes as well, has not proved popular in all quarters, since information about the genetics of the donors can be useful in the medical care of children born with those gametes. Not only that, but information about the identity of the donors can be useful in the psychological development of the same children.

Some jurisdictions have moved to make certain information about donors available to children born with their gametes.  That changes the terms of donation in the future, but it does little to resolve matters for those conceived with anonymous gametes.

Some advocates want to roll back confidentiality agreements entirely.  For example, Damian Adams and Caroline Lorbach have said this: “Donor conception practices in Australia have left thousands of donor-conceived people, their families and gamete donors bereft of information. The lack of a nationally timeline-consistent approach to information access has driven these people to seek support and information from self-help groups, online communities and even their own DNA.” They argue that “current practices continue to fail donor-conceived people, their families and gamete donors.” They want “all donor offspring” to have “the right to know their genetic family history,” otherwise “they will continue to suffer discrimination, and potentially risk psychological and physical trauma. “ (See ‘Accessing donor conception information in Australia,”  At:

By contrast to a Law Reform Committee recommendation to roll back the rule of confidentiality that governed gamete donation for many men in Victoria, Guido Pennings argues that undoing the terms of donation – namely, overriding the promise of anonymity – will undermine trust, do damage to donors and their current families, and drive gamete donors away in the future.

He also describes this ‘right to know’ movement as part of a larger ideology, namely a certain normative understanding of what families are and how they should be constituted. Throwing up obstacles to gamete donation, he thinks, serves to discredit gamete donation and opens the door to not only disclosure of donor identity but to donor responsibility for the children as well.  It’s an interesting interpretation of the right-to-know movement that leaves very little room for anonymity.   (See Guido Pennings. How to kill gamete donation: retrospective legislation and donor anonymity. Human Reproduction 2012 (10): 2882-2885.)

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