Two studies, both published in the journal Human Reproduction, show that attitudes in society are tending towards more openness about sperm donation. Both studies looked at the attitudes of couples who used donors about how much information they believed a donor-conceived child should have about their background. The studies come ahead of new rules in the UK which mean that from April, new egg and sperm donors will lose their right to anonymity, so offspring can find out identifying information about them when they reach the age of 18.
The first study, undertaken by researchers from the Leiden University Hospital in the Netherlands, involved 105 couples seeking a sperm donor for their first child. Of these couples, 61 per cent were heterosexual and 39 per cent were lesbian couples. Anonymity for donors was removed in the Netherlands last June, but the hospital studied had been running a system to allow couples to choose either an anonymous or identifiable donor since 1994. The researchers found that 63 per cent of the heterosexual couples and all but one of the lesbian couples had chosen identifiable sperm donors. Dr Anne Brewaeys, leader of the research team, said that the majority of the couples 'pointed to the right of the child to know its genetic origins'. The study also found that lesbian couples were 'spared the stigma of infertility' and were therefore more prepared to be open. Among the heterosexual couples, the researchers found that couples 'with a lower socio-economic status' were more likely to have difficulties coping with male infertility and were therefore less likely to be open with the child.
In the second study, researchers from the UK interviewed 46 couples from a London clinic who had a child aged four to eight years old who was conceived using donor insemination. They found that 39 per cent of the couples were inclined to openness. Dr Emma Lycett, of the Family and Child Psychology Research Centre at London's City University, said although the sample of parents could not be considered representative of donor insemination parents as a whole, the findings suggested a marked proportion of parents recognise the importance of sharing information about the method of conception with their child.
However, many parents remain concerned about the impact of being open with children who were conceived through sperm donation. Both sets of researchers found that while there was a growing trend to be more open about sperm donation, not all parents were comfortable with being open. Of the couples interviewed in the London study, 13 per cent had already told their child about their background, while 26 per cent intended to in the future. But 43 per cent of the couples had decided against telling their child at all, and 17 per cent remained uncertain. Among those who did not want to tell, the parents felt there were no reasons to tell or wanted to protect other family members, including the feelings of the child itself. Almost 30 per cent said that they feared that openness might affect the relationship between father and child, while some were concerned the child might reject them. 'It will be interesting to know what proportion of those parents who intend to tell the child actually follow through', said Dr Lycett, adding that 'the new legislation could mean a greater proportion of parents will be encouraged to be open'.