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ART families without genetic or gestational links are still doing well

7 July 2008
Appeared in BioNews 465

Researchers from the Centre for Family Research at Cambridge University in the UK say that families created by the use of sperm donation, egg donation and surrogacy are doing well, particularly in terms of their psychological well-being.

The data, presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, come from the fourth phase of a longitudinal study in which 43 donor insemination families, 46 egg donation families and 39 surrogacy families have participated, along with a control group of 70 families where the children were naturally conceived. The first data on these families was taken when the children were nine months old - they are now seven years old.

Mothers, fathers and teachers were each independently given questionnaires to assess the child's wellbeing, as well as give individual scores on things like behavioural problems and emotional difficulties. Mothers and fathers were also separately interviewed about their relationship with their children. Children were asked to fill in a blank 'map' of concentric circles, assessing their relationship with family members and friends, placing the name of those with whom they believed they are closest in the innermost circle, and so on.

In terms of the psychological well-being of the parents, the quality of parent-child relationships and the psychological adjustment of the children concerned, more similarities than differences were found among the three assisted conception groups, said Polly Casey, who presented the research to the conference. Children from all family types placed their mother or father in the closest circle with the same frequency. However, there was some difference shown in the perception of emotional difficulties in the children, as reported by parents and teachers, with parents reporting no significant difficulties, but teachers (who did not know whether or not a child was born using assisted conception) indicating that children born from assisted conception having some more emotional difficulties than the control group.

Miss Casey also told the conference that only 29 per cent of donor insemination (DI)  parents, 39 per cent of egg donation parents and 89 per cent of surrogacy parents had told their children how they were conceived by the time they reached the age of seven. All of these figures were markedly less than the numbers who said they would tell their child of its origins in the first phase of the study. When the results on psychological well-being and parent-child relationships were broken down by those children who had been told of their origins and those who had not, some differences emerged. 'Those mothers who had told their children about their conception showed higher levels of sensitivity to the child and, although there was no statistical difference, we also found that fathers in disclosing families tended to show greater warmth towards their children', she said.

In the groups who had been open with their children, mothers also reported greater 'marital satisfaction' and, furthermore, teachers reported lower levels of emotional and behavioural difficulties among the children who had been told of their origins. 'We were particularly interested to find that, according to teachers, those children who had been told of their origins tended to do slightly better emotionally than those who had not', said Miss Casey, adding that 'of course this may simply be due to better communication within the family generally'.

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