The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has recommended that parents of donor-conceived children are best placed to tell them about their biological origins, but should not be mandated to do so.
In a report on the ethical aspects of information sharing in donor conception, it concludes that openness with children about their conception contributes to their well-being and the quality of family relationships. The Government should play an active role in providing support to promote the welfare of those involved in donor conception, but must not unreasonably interfere with the interests of others.
Dr Rhona Knight, a GP and the chair of the Nuffield enquiry, said: 'In recent years there has been a culture shift - advice from professionals has gone from the extreme of never telling, to always telling. We think it is usually better for children to be told, by their parents, about their donor conception, and if parents do decide to tell them then earlier is better'.
The report said there is evidence that children who discover their donor-conceived origins in late adolescence or adulthood are more likely to be distressed and suggests the optimal time to inform children is in their preschool years. However, evidence also shows that families who do not tell function well up to early adolescence and the report says there is little evidence, at present, of how donor-conceived families function in late adolescence and adult life.
Other recommendations include that counselling should be 'routinely' offered to parents and donors, and that donor-conceived children should be supported when they apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for identifying information about their donor.
It also recommended that the HFEA and the Donor Conceived Register should launch a public information campaign to inform pre-2005 donors that it is possible to re-register to be identifiable.
Under the current UK law, donor-conceived children can seek identifying information if their donor donated at a licensed fertility clinic after 1 April 2005. In the report, the authors acknowledged that although there are many interests at play in donor-conceived families, with some children believing they have a right to know details about their biological origins, a balance should be maintained.
'Families are not just about individuals - they are also about relationships', said Dr Knight. 'What we have tried to do is to balance out the views and interests of all those involved – donor-conceived people, their parents, and donors'.
Professor Sheila McLean, chair of the HFEA's National Donation Strategy Group, said that it welcomes the report's recommendations. 'We recognise the importance of information to people affected by donation and one of our tasks is to help donors provide better information about themselves for future families'.