BioNews reporting from ESHRE conference, Berlin:
Research has revealed that a majority of parents who use embryo donation in order to have children decide not to tell their child about its origins. Fiona MacCallum, from the Family and Child Psychology Centre at City University, London, said that the number of embryo donation parents who intend to tell their child about its origins is significantly different from the number of couples who use either IVF using their own eggs and sperm, or adoption.
Ms MacCallum studied 21 families who had a child after using anonymously donated embryos. Embryo donation means that the parents who raise the child have no genetic relationship with it, although there is a gestational link between mother and child. These families were compared with 28 families where babies were adopted and 30 whose children were conceived by IVF. The parents in all cases were interviewed and answered questionnaires when their children were between two and five years old. The results showed that while 93 per cent of couples using IVF, and all of the adoptive parents, plan to tell their children about their origins, only 34 per cent of parents using embryo donation would share the information with their children. Interestingly, 14 per cent of these parents had told no-one at all that embryo donation was used.
Ms MacCallum told the conference that 'the most common reasons for not telling the child about their method of creation were fears that it would upset the child or damage family relationships, and also a feeling that, since the mother carried and gave birth to the child, she was the real mother and so there was no need to tell the child anything different'. Her study showed, however, that the 'greater secrecy' among families who used embryo donation was not detrimental to the children in terms of their development. While some embryo donation parents were more 'emotionally over-involved', their quality of parenting or levels of parental warmth were found to be no different from IVF or adoptive parents.
'This supports the idea that it is the level of commitment to parenting that is important, and not the presence or absence of biological links between parents and children', said Ms MacCallum. But, she added, increased secrecy in embryo donation families may lead to problems in the future, especially because of the possibility of children discovering their origins at a later date. In January this year, the UK's Department of Health announced that people donating eggs, sperm or embryos in the UK after 1 April 2005 are will be identifiable to the offspring when they reach the age of 18.