11 November 2004
ByAppeared in BioNews 284
Researchers looking at the feelings and experiences of adolescents conceived using donor insemination (DI) with an identifiable sperm donor say fears that removing anonymity from donors might cause problems for offspring are unfounded. In a study published on 11 November in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers show that adolescents conceived in this way generally respond positively or in a neutral way to their origins.
The researchers surveyed 29 young people aged between 12 and 17, two thirds of whom were boys. The children and their parents independently answered questionnaires. Just over 40 per cent of the children had lesbian co-parents, 38 per cent were the children of single females, and 21 per cent were parented by heterosexual couples. All of the children were conceived using identifiable donors through a programme run by The Sperm Bank of California (TSBC), US. Most of the children had grown up knowing how they were conceived and all had been told by the time they were 10.
The results showed that more than four out of five of the children would be likely to ask the identity of their donor and try to contact him, either when that information was available to them at the age of 18 or sometime later in their lives. Many said they would also like to contact any other children of the donor. But few saw the donor as an important person in their lives or said they would want any financial assistance from him. Almost all of those studied said they were comfortable with their origins and about sharing this fact with people close to them, including members of the extended family, friends and even teachers. The majority said that they hoped their donor was a 'good, open-minded person who would be open to contact and not necessarily be heavily involved in their life'.
Lead researcher Dr Joanna Scheib, of the University of California and TSBC, said that 'while it appeared that the children were very curious and eager to learn more about their donor, they were also concerned about respecting his privacy and not intruding on his life'. She added: 'This finding indicates that the stereotypical concern of offspring showing up on the donor's doorstep is inaccurate and does not reflect the intentions of the actual youths going through the identity-release process'. She acknowledged that more research should be done using a larger sample, but said that even this small study was 'reassuring'. In the UK, from 5 April 2005, donors will be identifiable by their offspring upon reaching the age of 18. Dr Allan Pacey, of the British Fertility Society, said the findings should go 'part of the way' to reassure future donors that donor conceived children would take a measured and responsible view about contacting them. But, he said that it was of some concern 'that four out of five donor conceived people were likely to try and contact the donor as this may mean that even if future donors come forward, they may place limits on the number of births that can be achieved from their donations'.