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Do you know your sister?

4 March 2013
Appeared in BioNews 695

Once again, the voices of people and families conceived as a result of gamete donation in Israel are going unheeded.

A revision of health policy pertaining to matters of birth and fertility is currently underway in Israel, and assisted reproduction technologies (ART) are high on the agenda. Nonetheless it appears that those most affected by this have not (yet) been invited to testify.

In fact the Ministry of Health (MOH) Committee, known as the 'Mor Yosef Committee', published its recommendations in May last year. Now that a new government is being formed following the January 2013 elections, it is only a matter of time before the new Knesset members are asked to approve these recommendations.

One would think that the MOH and/or Knesset Committee members would wish to hear from donor offspring who are old enough to relate how they experience their insular situation. This has been done in other countries and jurisdictions for similar policy decisions which ultimately affect the offspring and their families most.

However in Israel, donor-conceived people are the only group not allowed to trace their ancestral origins and know their biological father and mother and half-siblings. Thus, they are not in a position to choose to establish the kind of family relations that in other jurisdictions are generally recognised by law.

This restriction of liberty has profound implications for the offspring's sense of self-familiarity (1), which is intimately connected with their sense of identity. In addition to the 'black hole' surrounding the biological parent's identity and personhood, donor offspring are deprived of having a relationship with half-siblings who may also wish to befriend them.

Moreover, offspring are denied access to valid medical information concerning their donor and his or her family history, even in an anonymised format. These data are simply not collected, even though this oversight may result in misdiagnosis, delayed treatment, or worse.

Added to that, offspring who do not know their donor code or lack access to identifying information are unable to avoid accidental incestuous relations with donor siblings. In a tiny country with poorly enforced restrictions as to the number of families a donor may donate to, this is imperative.

I would like to propose that while the pros and cons of abolishing donor anonymity in Israel are tentatively debated, a process which clearly will not be exhausted overnight given current efforts to maintain the status quo (2), the offspring be allowed to know each other should they so desire.

For many, this is of equal import to learning of or contacting their donor (3). This holds true for offspring from heterosexual families; single mother families; and lesbian couple families.

Offspring contact could be easily achieved without revealing the donor's identity, via the unconditional provision of non-identifying donor codes to recipients, donors and offspring, as is routinely done in the United States. What's more, this could and should be done retroactively. There is no need to create two classes of offspring - those who can search for their siblings on the basis of a donor code, and those who cannot.

Interested parties could then log onto the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) and/or other search engines, and hopefully find each other. A person conceived as a result of gamete donation could then find his or her half-siblings provided they too posted on the DSR, indicating their mutual interest in this endeavour.

In the words of a donor conceived person: 'I am quite secure about who I am and I do not feel I need to meet my donor but I do wonder about siblings. I think no matter how secure one's home life is there is still a need to better understand who you are and who you might be related to'. (4)

Imagine the joy of a single child in finding half-siblings, that of a boy with male siblings in finding a sister, or vice versa. It's hard to over-emphasise the psychological importance of being able to expand one's family, whether or not one chooses to exercise this freedom.

A word of caution, though - there is bound to be a gap between reality and desire, especially where such long-thwarted hopes are involved. People who choose to become involved in such a journey might wish to consider some form of preparatory counselling or psychotherapy to better anticipate and buffer the repercussions of finding - or failing to find - a new donor relation or, for them, family member.

29 April 2013 - by Professor Carol Smart 
From my point of view as a sociologist carrying out research in this field, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on donor conception is to be welcomed as a scholarly and balanced contribution to current debates...
18 February 2013 - by Dr Petra Thorn 
On 6 February 2013, the Higher Regional Court in Hamm, Germany, granted a 21-year-old donor conceived woman the right to access the identity of her donor. Further steps must be taken in order to provide a comprehensive legal framework....
14 January 2013 - by Dr Juliet Guichon and Dr Vardit Ravitsky 
People conceived by donor gametes in Canada do not have a right to access their progenitors' medical records or identities. To change this reality, Olivia Pratten brought litigation in October 2008 against the government of British Columbia, where she was donor-conceived about 30 years ago...
18 June 2012 - by James Brooks 
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...
6 June 2012 - by Dr Ruth Shidlo 
Two weeks ago, the Israeli Ministry of Health published recommendations regarding fertility and birth and its legislation. I applaud this attempt to review and improve upon existing laws and MOH regulations (some of which are not consistent with international commitments) and to codify them...
12 December 2011 - by Dr Ruth Shidlo 
Living in Israel, where gamete donor anonymity still rules supreme, I confess I envy the UK's clear focus on the welfare of the donor conceived child and the evolution of the legal rights of offspring...
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