12 August 2013
ByAppeared in BioNews 717
Earlier in the year, a German court ruled that a 22-year-old woman conceived via sperm donation would be allowed to know who her biological father was. The decision sparked considerable debate, with Sarah's story covered extensively in the press. Six months later, radio station 1Live caught up with her, and took a look into the world of assisted conception in Germany.
'I felt really lied to', says Sarah, opening the 40-minute report 'A donation for life'. She is, of course, referring to the moment four years ago when she found out that her parents had gone to a sperm bank. Less about the science or ethics surrounding artificial insemination, the show leans heavily on the human aspect of being a donor-conceived child.
Journalist Nele Quoos proceeds to add background before explaining that she'll be talking not only to Sarah, but to a mother who used a sperm bank, a fertility doctor and finally, Sarah's biological father who she recently found. Softly spoken, there's no doubt she was chosen for the job to make her interviewees feel comfortable.
Sarah tells Quoos about the discovery; she was preparing for her final high school exams when she found out, fell out with her parents and moved out as soon as the exams were over. Although their relationship recovered, this isn't always the case – a sperm donor expert later explains that just five to ten percent of parents tell their child, and that more should, 'preferably as young as possible, as this lowers the chance of an identity crisis'.
But as Quoos explains, 'Sarah has a very strong personality' and though fighting for answers was tough – her case was thrown out by one court – she has been lucky to find a happy ending. Her biological father, 'mid-40s, gay and good-looking' is thrilled to be in her life and her parents are happy she found what she was looking for.
Sat on the balcony of Sarah's flat in Sauerland, western Germany, Quoos chats happily while looking at baby photos of Sarah taken with her parents. It becomes apparent at this point that going in hard on the emotional angle would have been better suited to television.
'You don't look like him,' says Quoos, deliberately pushing Sarah while the pair flick through photos. 'Did you never realise this growing up?' No, says Sarah, who adds that she never thought about it. She goes on to mention that when she met her biological father she noticed lots of physical similarities, but she has similar personality characteristics to the man who raised her – briefly touching on the nature/nurture debate, but going no further.
The setting then shifts to one of the country's leading fertility clinics in Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia. The head of the clinic leads Quoos around, explaining that sperm samples are now kept for 30 years instead of ten, as they were when Sarah was born. This was an added complication to her hunt.
'Does this mean that one could build exactly what kind of a child to have?' asked Quoos. 'No', explained the clinic boss, it's so we can match up families with a donor that looks like them, should they want it. At this point it should be mentioned that as a country with a privatised health care system, fertility treatment in Germany is almost always funded by the patient. .
As the pair chat, the listener can't help but wonder whether there would be more than 100,000 babies born via sperm donation if fertility treatment was subsidised, and whether making it more accessible would help the country's dwindling birth rate – a topic that rarely leaves the headlines.
'Of course roots are important, but I think people shouldn't put too much worth on them', the clinic director tells Quoos. Sarah echoes this sentiment and says that although she wanted to find her biological father, it was for her own development rather than replacing the dad who brought her up. She gets on well with her donor, to whom we are introduced at the end. He has not been named and has his voiced altered on the show.
Quoos, who herself is heavily pregnant - something we don't find out until the end, presumably not to detract from those who the show is focused around - is thrilled for Sarah. The positive ending to the programme is a pleasing contrast to the beginning, when it was unclear what angle Quoos was going to take. Being on the television would have, however, taken this up to a far more engaging level.