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Film Review: DNA Testing, Sperm Donor Anonymity and Me

2 March 2020
By Freddie Howell
Chair of the Donor Conceived Register (DCR) Panel
Appeared in BioNews 1037

Anyone who donated sperm, eggs or embryos in the UK prior to the 2005 law change, (as reported in BioNews 302) was promised life-long anonymity. Now in 2020, the probability of donors remaining anonymous is very much diminished, and continue to do so, as more and more people take direct-to-consumer DNA tests.

This BBC short film looks at one donor-conceived person, Natasha, who has taken a direct-to-consumer DNA test and gets her results. It succeeds in continuing to raise awareness of donor conception and some of the issues faced by those involved before 2005.

It is a useful piece as it interweaves the history of donor conception in the UK with the opinion of esteemed academic, Dr Marilyn Crawshaw who has significant experience in donor conception and also provides responses of the UK regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) on some of the issues touched upon in the film.  

As a short film on a mainstream media platform, it does a good job of promoting donor conception and providing a high-level overview, introducing the concept and a brief history of donor conception in the UK alongside personal experience. 

What it fails to introduce to viewers, especially those who do not have a detailed knowledge of donor conception, are the issues faced by those people who have been told that they have no rights to know the identity of their donor.

For those who do have a good knowledge of donor conception and direct-to-consumer DNA testing, it does not address the issues arising from the results of the testing, whether that be matching with half-siblings and/or being able to identify previously 'anonymous' donors.

One such issue not addressed is how to broach contacting half-siblings that are identified, especially without knowing if the half-siblings are donor conceived or the offspring of the donor, as well as what, if anything, they know about their own conception.

While the description of the film does question the impact of the direct-to-consumer DNA tests on the rights of donors and donor conceived people in the UK, this is not something that is actually explored in any detail. There is also no direct discussion with people who take the tests and subsequently find out that they have been donor conceived as a result. Natasha comes across well, a level-headed, well-spoken person who through her own experiences forms considered opinions on donor conception and donor anonymity.

This film is limited in that it only has the views and opinions of one donor conceived person. There is such a range of emotions and opinions of donor conceived people and it would be impossible for one person to accurately represent this diversity. Many donor conceived people believe that they absolutely have a right to know who their donor is, that it's not a question of what is fair but of knowing where one comes from as an absolute basic, human right.

'DNA testing, sperm donor anonymity and me' is a nice piece that helps to introduce donor conception to a wider audience, many of whom may never have considered it before. It also touches on the massive impact direct-to-consumer DNA testing is having on the previously promised anonymity of donors, though it does not explore these in much detail.

Overall it is a positive piece that contributes to raising awareness of donor conception without exploring the historical issues or those arising from direct-to-consumer DNA testing in any great level of detail.

DNA testing, sperm donor anonymity and me
BBC News |  24 January 2020
7 December 2020 - by Dr Yvonne Collins 
This BBC podcast focuses on direct-to-consumer DNA tests and identity...
9 November 2020 - by Chiara Thomas 
As changes in attitudes, law, and assisted reproductive technology have taken place regarding family structures, Professor Susan Golombok has followed these developments, keeping children's wellbeing at the forefront of her research as she explores the experiences of these families...
17 August 2020 - by Professor Guido Pennings 
More and more fertility centres are imposing expanded carrier screening (ECS) on their gamete donors. ECS allows for the detection of the carrier status of hundreds of recessive disorders in donors who are not at an increased risk...
9 March 2020 - by Petra Nordqvist, Leah Gilman and Hazel Burke 
In common parlance, being an egg or sperm donor means donating to an anonymous stranger via a clinic or bank...
10 February 2020 - by Vince Londini 
Recent media coverage of recommendations regarding non-directed posthumous sperm donation highlights the ready ease with which donor-conceived people are marginalised in policy decisions about donor conception...
21 March 2016 - by Professor Eric Blyth and Dr Marilyn Crawshaw 
The Government of Victoria should be applauded for confronting a dilemma that so many others have avoided...
4 April 2005 - by BioNews 
British people conceived using donated egg, sperm or embryos will be able to ask for identifying information about the donor when they reach the age of 18, following a law change that came into force on 1 April 2005. Fertility experts have welcomed the move towards openness, but fear that...
Comment ( - 04/03/2020)
I am going to use a sperm donor to have a baby. When the child grows up and asks questions I would help the child understand the ancestry and DNA of the mother (me) and the donor dad. According to the HFEA, by the age of 18, the child will find more information on the donor dad. Being fatherless is 'not a perfect situation' but I will try my very best to keep the child happy mentally and emotionally. Please don't forget that there are serious reasons why single women use sperm donors, some women have been abuse victims, some women have dyspareunia (pain) etc.
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