Monday, September 25, 2006

Letters re Dangers and Dilemmas of Donor Conception

The Times
September 26, 2006

Dangers and dilemmas of donor conception

Sir, It is quite true that the majority of us know our ancestry. That some may not, because of agreements legally and knowingly entered into by our genetic parents, does not necessarily entail a lack of justice or a harm.

The vast majority of doctors have never sworn the Hippocratic Oath, let alone read it. The passage quoted by Christine Whipp (letter, Sept 23) is not “do no harm” but actually “first of all do no harm”. This is, when unpacked, morally nonsensical.

All treatments and therapies have the potential to harm. Nausea from an antibiotic, the fatal anaphylactic reaction to an intravenous drug or the stroke after neck manipulation all represent harms that come about as a result of trying to do good. If doing no harm first of all is the prime code of medicine then we are bound to do nothing: a sort of therapeutic nihilism.

Medicine, like much of life, represents a balance of harms versus benefits. It is true that some people conceived by sperm donation are harmed by not knowing their parents, but if the result of making donation non-anonymous is to reduce donation, and consequently the numbers of births to infertile couples, how do we balance the moral scales?

Honorary Senior Lecturer
Medical Ethics Unit
Imperial College, London


Sir, If society accepts that the desire for a biological connection is a “legitimate interest” that is strong enough to make adults choose donor conception over adoption, then it is the ultimate double standard to deny that desire for a biological connection when it is expressed by donor-conceived adults.

(Conceived in New Zealand by anonymous donor)
Harvard Law School


Sir, Baroness Deech (letter, Sept 23) was wrong when she wrote: “Medical predictions can be made just as accurately from one’s own body.” She will remain wrong for the many decades that it will take to discover how every gene, every interaction of multiple genes and every interaction of genes with lifestyle affects the development of disease. Even then she would still be wrong unless every baby had its complete genome determined and read. At what cost?

The vast numbers of us with a blank space or “father unknown” on our birth certificates plus those whose genetic father is not the father named are now joined by a growing number whose genetic mother is unknown and the not insignificant trickle of those for whom neither genetic parent is known.

Nor is this genetic information merely a matter of parents. One needs to know about genetic illnesses of ancestors farther back and of illnesses in collateral lines. Diseases dependent on recessive genes may “skip a generation”. This simple piece of biology appears to be unknown to the mandarins and ministers formulating the legislation on the rights of children to seek information.

Meanwhile, those of us who have genetic parents unknown get on with the business of dying. And watch our own descendants sickening or dying because we do not have the information to pass to them in time.

Newton Abbot, Devon


Sir, As the national organisation providing support and information to those affected by infertility, we encounter daily the difficulties faced by couples who need donor sperm and eggs.

An increasing number of patients now face long waiting lists and, even worse, the prospect of not being able to access treatment in the UK, such is the lack of donors in many parts of the country. We are now seeing many couples travelling abroad for egg and sperm donor treatments.

Many NHS hospitals which provide infertility treatments do not have the facilities to recruit donors and are purchasing sperm from commercial clinics and sperm banks at astronomical prices. Donor recruitment needs to be looked at carefully by clinics and any discussions should involve patient and donor representatives.

Infertility is an illness which causes severe emotional distress and when sufferers cannot access the treatment needed that distress is greatly heightened.

Head of Business Development
Infertility Network UK

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