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France: donor anonymity holds firm in court case

18 June 2012
Appeared in BioNews 661

A French court has effectively reaffirmed the country's policy of gamete donor anonymity by rejecting a donor-conceived woman's demand for information on her biological father.

The woman requested that a message be passed on to the man asking whether he would accept to be identified. She was also seeking disclosure of non-identifying information – medical history, reasons for donation, number of children conceived from the sample – in the event of the man's refusal of her request.

But even though the woman was not asking for direct identification, the tribunal in Montreuil, on the outskirts of Paris, still threw out her request on the grounds that information given to clinics by gamete donors is protected as secret under French law.

The woman, a lawyer who has asked to remain anonymous, invoked Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in her claim. Article 8 protects the right to private and family life and in some readings confers a right to access information essential to personal identity.

The Montreuil tribunal rejected this interpretation. In its analysis, 'gamete donor anonymity, which in fact meets the objective of respect for the life of the legal family of the child [...] does not itself threaten the private life of the person concerned'.

French law permits the lifting of anonymity in cases of medical necessity and the woman had argued that this was relevant in her case. She had been told of her donor-conceived status just over two years ago and had been profoundly troubled by the revelation. Access to information regarding her biological father was necessary for her mental health, she argued, and presented a medical certificate as part of her dossier.

Accordingly, the woman also sought damages of €100,000 from the donation centre and related public bodies. Their refusal to disclose the information she sought had contributed, she claimed, to her 'identity crisis'.

Although it was rejected, the woman's claim is indicative of a growing movement challenging the law on gamete donation in France. In 2010 the French government voted on a proposal by Roselyne Bachelot, a former health minister, in which donors could opt out of anonymity should they wish.

Ministers ultimately rejected the proposal, affirming, said Le Monde, 'the primacy of social over genetic links' in French law.

Arthur Kermalvezen, spokesperson for the association Procréation Médicalement Anonyme, which supported the woman's claim, spoke to Le Monde before the tribunal's decision. He said that French donor-conceived people existed 'in a perverse holding pattern. For years we've been advising parents to tell donor-conceived children how they were conceived. But afterwards, the nagging question of who that person [the donor] is becomes inevitable'.

The woman who brought the claim told the newspaper: 'The system was conceived by people who forgot that donor-conceived children would grow up'.

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