The following letters are presented in most recent date order
The Times September 23, 2006
Competing interests in sperm donor secrecy
Sir, Sir Colin Campbell (letter, Sept 21) allows expediency to trump a significant human rights issue: the interests of donor-conceived people to learn about their genetic history. The evidence is that these are very real, and not imagined, interests.
The Government decision to end gamete and embryo donor anonymity was influenced by a recognition that the only ethical form of donor conception was non-anonymous donation.
The full extent of the donor “crisis” in the UK has yet to be fully assessed and we should be wary of attributing the cause to the change in legislation. Births of children conceived as a result of donor insemination in the UK peaked in 1994, so the subsequent decline can hardly be attributed to a change in legislation that was announced a decade later. Donors are in short supply in many countries, even where donor anonymity still enjoys legal protection.
That identifiable donors can be recruited successfully if sufficient effort is expended is demonstrated by those clinics that have continued to do so.
In abolishing donor anonymity, the UK Government committed itself to the interests and rights of donor-conceived people. Now is the time for cool reflection, not hasty demands to turn back the clock.
Professor of Social Work
University of Huddersfield
Sir, I was chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) from 1994 to 2002 and support my predecessor, Colin Campbell, in calling for the restoration of anonymity for sperm donors.
During my chairmanship the authority discussed the issue thoroughly on several occasions and remained firmly of the view that anonymity was right. This was not only in order to ensure volunteers, but out of respect for the husband of the baby’s mother, who would assume the role of real father to the child in social and emotional terms.
The lobby for the removal of anonymity asserted a misleading parallel with adoption, but adoption has a history and a relinquishment that call for explanation. The argument that one needs to know one’s father in order to ascertain health issues is also false. Medical predictions can be made just as accurately from one’s own body.
Moreover, if knowing one’s father is so important, should not every child have the right to DNA test the adults in his or her household? That would have some surprising results.
Sir, Tom Ellis (letter, Sept 22) is alive today because sperm donation used to be anonymous.
Had it not been so, there is a good chance he would never have existed, surely a more terrible fate than not knowing your father.
Sir, I had the misfortune of being conceived with donor sperm at a time when it was thought acceptable to dupe children about their paternity.
Those who sought an end to anonymity were not arguing that the interests of the child were superior to those of its biological or social parents. To be allowed knowledge of one’s genetic origins and ancestry is merely to be given parity with those who already have this information. Awareness of the identity of one’s parents is a norm within our society; withholding such information, simply to appease the reproductive choices of commissioning parents, is discriminatory.
Donor conception is carried out under the auspices of medical practitioners, who are bound by the Hippocratic Oath “to do no harm”. Success has been measured in the number of live births but rigorous secrecy has prevented any genuine research into the long-term effects of donor conception on the parents who have used it or the people created by it.
Colin Campbell presided over the HFEA before the voices of adults conceived by donor sperm were heard, and there has been growing evidence to suggest that such people, with their unique life experiences, have indeed suffered harm. Their testimonies are too often derided by the fertility industry.
The Times September 22, 2006
Sperm donors and secrecy
Sir, Colin Campbell (letter, September 21) does not mention two other highly adverse effects of the regulations abolishing the anonymity of sperm and egg donors.
As a consequence of this legislation, more couples undergoing these treatments state their firm intention to keep the method of conception secret from any child. This will inevitably be serious for some offspring, who years later — perhaps after acrimony during the break-up of their parents’ marriage — will be deeply disturbed to discover accidentally that one of their parents is not genetically related to them.
It also means that a woman donating eggs to another infertile woman during her own treatment may learn years later after her own treatment has failed that she has a genetic child of whose existence she was not aware.
Sadly, since Sir Colin’s wise leadership, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) failed to consider these concerns seriously and the advice it gave to government over donor identity was flawed.
PROFESSOR LORD WINSTON
Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology
Imperial College London
Sir, My father donated his sperm anonymously and I have grown into an adult whose daily life is full of sadness because his identity is withheld from me.
It is ethically unjustifiable to solve a woman’s need for genetically related children (letter, Sept 21) by denying those same children the knowledge of their genetically related father.
Sperm donation is mistakenly seen as advantageous. Unfortunately, the truth is more complex. The current legislation is vital in making sure that future people conceived in this way will avoid the terrible fate that has befallen me.
September 21, 2006
Donor identity rules and IVF
Sir, I had the privilege of being the founding chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) from 1990 to 1994. At that time, the authority favoured protecting the anonymity of men who donated sperm to assist people with infertility difficulties.
The current regulation follows a different view, stating that children born as a result of IVF should be entitled to seek the identity of their biological father, the sperm donor. This is, as we then predicted, seriously reducing the number of men prepared to donate (report, Sept 14
It is not sensible to argue that the putative interests — 18 to 20 years from now — of a person not yet conceived, are superior to the legitimate interests of women and their partners who wish to have a baby.
The policy is largely based on the claim that the children who owe their existence to IVF have a right to know their biological father’s identity. Whether one accepts this argument or not, it cannot have much force if the net effect of the policy is that children who would otherwise have come into existence do not now do so because donors cannot be found.
The policy is causing anguish to couples who are unable to conceive without assistance, and putting serious impediments in the way of those otherwise willing to assist with donations. The policy must be changed.
University of Nottingham