In November 2012 the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that donor-conceived children should not be allowed to trace their genetic parents. The court overturned an earlier decision which allowed access and called donor conception 'harmful' to the child. The appeal court rejected this, saying enforced access amounted to state intrusion. Anonymity, guaranteed to the donor at the time of conception, was rightly respected.
It’s a shame that respect isn't afforded to donors in the UK. As a prospective parent of a donor-conceived child (she's due this July), I strongly disagree with state intervention on donor access. So strongly, in fact, that we had our donor-egg IVF treatment abroad – in one of many EU countries that protects donor anonymity. Ethical opinions, it seems, vary nationally.
The recent Nuffield report makes two disappointing recommendations. First, that anonymous donation should not be reintroduced. Second, that the state should encourage those who donated pre-2005 to come forward. Both positions are obstructive to donors, past and present.
The ending of donor anonymity in the UK cut supply overnight. Many couples were deprived of the chance of a child, since infertility treatment is about timing, cooperation and convenience. Long waiting lists serve nobody. As demand for donor eggs outstripped supply – as it does today despite the compensation hike – fertility care took a backward step. Many couples voted with their feet – like us – and travelled to another member state for quicker, cheaper treatment. They found non-existent queues for donors, a lack of moralising and superb standards of care, stringently protected by EU law.
That's not quite the picture of donor conception in the UK. What should be a private matter between the parties – donor, parent(s) and child – has become overtly politicised. Subjective ethical views have been handed down from on high, shaping the law. The 1989 Children Act describes the welfare of children as 'paramount'. Few would question the thinking behind that – the welfare of donor-conceived children is paramount too. But the right to seek out a genetic parent, whether contact at 18 ends well or badly, will not be paramount to the welfare of every donor-conceived child. It would merely be desirable in certain cases. That doesn't justify statutory access for all.
Donors are heroes. Without them, donor-conceived children wouldn't exist. Yet the rights of donors have been oddly marginalised in the debate. By saying donors, pre-2005, should consider ending the anonymity given to them, Nuffield does them a great disservice. They may of course have only donated on account of the anonymity they were promised. Hectoring them to come forward is intrusive and probably illegal, if Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights is anything to go by. And forcing would-be donors into counselling and bringing in their partners before they sign is like saying: 'you better know what you're doing'. It reminds us of the response we got from our local council when we contacted it about adoption. It was distrustful, suspicious and bureaucratically heavy-handed – and that was just the first phone call. Our enquiries ended there.
There are countless websites, some with charitable status, asserting, mostly without evidence, that donor-conceived children face an identity crisis later in life. They often sentimentalise the rights and second-guess the feelings of children they will never know. To us, good parenting will alleviate most emotional difficulties. Nuffield is right to endorse the telling of children from an early age about their genetic origins. It's also right to highlight the importance of donor medical information when needed. But it missed a trick by objecting to donor anonymity. We've seen no conclusive evidence that the mandatory revealing of a donor's identity is paramount to a child's welfare. The proposition may sound reasonable but, to us, it's ethically flawed. And look at the result. Donors have run a mile, families have suffered and the advancement of medicine has been hindered.
To fix the problem, we call upon NICE, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, to recommend that donor-egg IVF is provided on the NHS to everyone who needs it. We ask that the law is changed to allow donor anonymity once again. We suggest the statutory formation of an independent body, separate from the National Donation Strategy Group, to provide a service that brings donor-conception parties together only if the donor consents. The donor must be free to withdraw her consent at any time.
Responsible parenting and donor rights are more important, in our view, than the current vogue for transparency. The Canadian court rejected the assertion that donor-conceived children should have the same rights of access as adoptees. Everyone knows that donor conception is different to adoption. The UK should follow the Canadian example. Donor conception needs a reality check and a repealed law, not more ethical debate.See the Your IVF Journey website for more information