10 June 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 562
A study into the attitudes of donor-conceived siblings has been published in the US. Said to be the first US empirical study of its kind, the report's authors - from The Commission on Parenthood's Future - surveyed nearly 500 donor-conceived adults aged between 18 and 45 aiming to feed into international debate on the ethics, meaning, and practice of donor conception.
The report, entitled 'My Daddy's Name is Donor' (the name was taken from a controversial T-shirt slogan produced by a company founded by two lesbian parents of a donor-conceived child), shows that 45 per cent of donor offspring agreed with the statement 'the circumstances of my conception bother me' and half expressed concerns or serious objections to donor conception itself. However, well over half (61 per cent) of donor offspring favour the practice and are more likely than non-donor conceived adults to become donors themselves.
The study also reported unease about payment for gametes with half the respondents disturbed that money was involved in their conception. It also found that approximately two-thirds of respondents supported the right of donor-conceived offspring to obtain information about their biological father and to know his identity.
Co-investigator Karen Clark said in a press statement, '[T]his study reveals that when they are adults, sperm donor offspring struggle with serious losses from being purposefully denied knowledge of, or a relationship with, their sperm donor biological fathers'.
Response to the study has been mixed. Its authors conclude that donor-conceived offspring experience 'profound struggles with their origins and identities', but some commentators have criticised the findings for conservative bias. Philosophy professor John Corvino, writing for 365-Gay, called the report 'biased' saying the authors' conclusions at times did not necessarily reflect what the data implied, warning of a negative 'spin' on the data. For example, he pointed out that respondents were never even asked about 'profound struggles' and the data this finding was based on seems not to indicate such struggles, 'especially when compared to the rest of the data'.
It is estimated that between 30,000 to 60,000 conceptions occur following sperm donation every year in the US and that around one million Americans are donor-conceived. Although the industry is worth $3.3 billion annually, there are no statistical reporting requirements and very little empirical evidence about the practice.
Elizabeth Marquardt, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, said that the debate around reproductive technologies is 'dominated by adults' rights: the rights of same-sex couples, the rights of infertile adults, the rights of singles' and that children's interests are given insufficient weight. '[W]e also have to hear and respond to children's pain when they lose the ability to grow up with their own mom and dad, whether it's due to donor conception, or parental abandonment, or divorce', she said.
Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, said that the study showed that donor-conceived Americans on one hand may be more supportive of the right of every person to have a child and encourage gamete donation, but that on the other hand they may also feel unease and disquiet about the circumstances of their own conception. This may explain, Douthat said, how donor-conceived offspring are more likely to oppose payment for eggs and sperm, and the provision of fertility treatment to single parents.