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Film Review: Legal Cases Involving Donor Conception

8 May 2012
Appeared in BioNews 655

Legal Cases Involving Donor Conception

University of Manchester, March 2012

Presented by Professor Carol Smart

'Legal Cases Involving Donor Conception', University of Manchester, March 2012


This short film provides an overview of the law surrounding known donor agreements and elicits some interesting conclusions. As part of a sociological research project entitled 'Relative Strangers' at the University of Manchester, Professor Carol Smart examines the courts' approach to known donation. She provides a sociological prospective gained from interviews with heterosexual and lesbian couples, donors and grandparents. The focus is on private agreements made with a donor known to the parent or couple, falling outside the law governing gametes donated through a licensed clinic.

Professor Smart covers both legal and sociological perspectives. I found the inclusion of the role and effect grandparents have in raising the child was a fascinating addition to a debate that typically focuses on donors and parents. Grandparents are often not included in discussions over the child's parentage and upbringing.

Although the video could be seen as a warning for those thinking about entering private donation arrangements, the overall message I took way is that such agreements can work. As long as there is open discussion of intention and that parties realise that both life and people change, then these agreements can be hugely successful.

Professor Smart notes that the perception of these agreements ending in hostile arguments is one created by the wide coverage of legal disputes. However, these cases make up a very small number of actual agreements than have been made.

While those who are already experts in the field of donation may not find the law discussed any more illuminating, Professor Smart's examples on how donation agreements can go right - even where unforeseen circumstances arise - is extremely compelling.

The video is an excellent overview of a complex area and provides a clear explanation of the courts' approach to such agreements, but also the approach of the parties involved.

Professor Smart's straightforward style in presenting the video is appealing and makes it easy to follow. Her arguments are clear and well constructed and the video has a strong narrative throughout. It is worth noting that while there has been increase in academics using new media to engage people with their research, it can often be hard to follow (unless you have a PhD yourself). Professor Smart has not fallen foul of this problem and she should be commended for this.

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