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Lords propose inclusion of donor-conception information on birth certificates

17 December 2007
Appeared in BioNews 438

An amendment to the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has been tabled in the House of Lords that will require birth certificates to indicate whether a child has been born from donor-conception. The proposal comes as parents to around 2,000 babies born using donated eggs, sperm or embryos currently have no obligation to inform their children of the nature of their birth - although anyone over the age of 18 and born through donor-conception can obtain details about their genetic parents from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). 'We need to make it more difficult for parents to deceive their children', said Baroness Warnock, who supported the amendment. 'It is awful that children can live completely unaware of the truth.'

Some commentators have expressed reservations that if such a clause became law then it may result in even greater disruption to children born through donor-conception. Dr Simon Fishel, of the Care Fertility Unit, Nottingham, said that such children would be 'single out'. 'Birth certificates are asked for in many different walks of life. All of a sudden, it means that people will know whether someone was conceived using a donor', he said, adding, 'this has huge implications and I'm convinced there will be huge objections'. The Donor Conception Network (DCN) argued that the proposal would in fact encourage dishonesty, forcing patients to conceal their child's birth certificate should they not wish their child to know of their donor-conception origins. It highlighted that some parents choose to not inform their child until they consider them to be mature enough to properly understand the meaning of donor conception. 'Parents should be supported and not forced to tell their child,' it said.

Infertility Network UK said that although it agreed parents should be open with their children, legislation to compel this comes 'too soon'. Academic literature is unclear what the effect of being told that one or both parents are not biologically related is on children. Current surveys indicate that, in practice, most parents do inform their children if they are born from donor-conception. A 2006 study published in the journal Human Reproduction reported that 54 per cent of UK parents who had used donor sperm had opted for disclosure, which rose to 78 per cent of parents using egg donation. The DCN reported that a survey of their members revealed that 99 per cent said they would tell their child their true background.

It is not yet clear what affect the removal of donor anonymity in the UK has had on the practice of disclosing such information. The British Medical Association (BMA) opposed the removal of donor anonymity, which allows children to seek identifying information about their genetic parents once they have attained the age of 18, if they had donated since April 2005. 'Parents who are unwilling for their child to make contact with the donor may be less likely to tell their child they were donor-conceived,' said a spokesman for the BMA.

MPs will need to approve the amendment if it is to be contained in the final version of the Bill, which will go before the House of Commons sometime in the New Year. Catholic MPs will now be allowed to vote according to their conscience against the Bill, after the Government was criticised for telling Catholic Cabinet ministers that if they intended to vote against the Government Bill they would have to leave their positions. In total there are 64 Catholic MPs who are entitled to vote and the Catholic Church has already expressed its strong opposition to the Bill.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Catholic MPs allowed vote against fertility Bill
The Daily Telegraph |  13 December 2007
Children born of sperm or egg donors 'should have birth certificates stamped'
The Daily Mail |  10 December 2007
ID Stamp for Donor Babies
Raising Kids |  12 December 2007
My daddy's name is Donor
The Times |  13 December 2007
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