The Progress Educational Trust (PET)'s project 'When It Takes More Than Two', supported by the Wellcome Trust, sought to clarify public and professional understanding of donor conception by focusing on the different parties involved - the donor, the recipient parent and the donor-conceived person. At three public events organised by PET in 2012 and 2013, audiences were asked to submit questions they wanted to see put to the wider public, in order that the issues raised by the project could be further explored. Questions were then selected from these audience suggestions, and were incorporated into a poll that was conducted on the BioNews website in March and April.
The poll elicited 802 responses which, taken together, cast interesting light on a range of contrasting opinions that are currently held about donor conception. For example, the 2005 removal of entitlement to donor anonymity in the UK was long campaigned for by a number of donor-conceived people and by several organisations involved in donor conception, and was welcomed accordingly, but was not welcomed by all. The first audience question we selected for inclusion in our poll - 'Should anonymous egg and sperm donation be allowed in the UK?' - was put forward by several audience members at our events, which suggests that the issue of donor anonymity remains contentious.
This contentiousness is also borne out by the responses to the question. More than half (56 percent) of those who responded to this question thought that anonymous donation should be allowed in the UK, while the remaining 44 percent of respondents thought that anonymous donation should not be allowed in the UK. Judging by these poll responses, the case for the identifiability of donors has yet to be won among the public, notwithstanding the fact that identifiability has been a mandatory part of donation in the UK for eight years.
Under the present regime, all donors must be identifiable to anyone concieved using their donation, once they turn 18. This is the background to the second question we selected for inclusion in the poll - 'Would you be discouraged from donating sperm or eggs, if anyone conceived with your donation could contact you once they were 18?'. More than a third (43 percent) of respondents said they would not be discouraged from donating sperm or eggs by being identifiable, and just under a third of respondents (32 percent) said they would be discouraged from donating sperm or eggs by being identifiable. Meanwhile, the remaining quarter of respondents (25 percent) opted for a third option: 'Not applicable - I would not wish to donate eggs or sperm in any circumstances.'
The next question approached the same topic from the opposite direction, asking 'Would you be encouraged to donate sperm or eggs, if this could be done anonymously?'. This question elicited closely (but not absolutely) corresponding responses. 40 percent of respondents said they would be encouraged to donate if this could be done anonymously, and 36 percent of respondents said they would not be encouraged to donate if this could be done anonymously. Once again, around quarter of respondents (24 percent) said 'Not applicable - I would not wish to donate eggs or sperm in any circumstances'.
Although unfortunately it is beyond the scope of this PET project, it would be interesting to explore why a quarter of respondents would not wish to donate in any circumstances.
This slight majority, in favour of some sort of compulsion to ensure that donor-conceived people are appraised of their origins, goes against the conclusions of last month's Nuffield Council on Bioethics report Donor Conception: Ethical Aspects of Information Sharing. The report concluded that 'it is not the role of state authorities...to intervene to ensure that all donor-conceived people know of the circumstances of their conception' (1).
Those respondents who thought it should be compulsory for all donor-conceived people to be told they are donor-conceived were asked a follow-up question - 'By whom should they be told?' - with four options to choose from. These options were not mutually exclusive, which meant that people could choose more than one option if they so wished.
The most popular candidates for those who should tell donor-conceived people about their origins, named by 86 percent of those who thought such telling should be mandatory, was the donor-conceived person's parents. The next most popular option, named by more than half (53 percent) of those who thought such telling should be mandatory, was 'via details on the donor-conceived person's birth certificate'. The final two options were 'by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority' (selected by 27 percent) and 'by a state representative/department' (selected by 12 percent).
The final two questions in the poll concerned whether donors should be permitted to place conditions on who receives their donation (a practice which is legally permitted within certain parameters, but remains controversial) and whether those who are considering having children via donor conception should be encouraged to adopt instead. The responses we received to these two questions will be discussed in BioNews next week.
PET would like to thank everyone who took the time to respond to the poll, and would also like to thank those who attended its debates 'Giving: The Gamete Donor Perspective', 'Receiving: The Recipient Parent Perspective' and 'Being: The Donor-Conceived Perspective' and suggested questions for the poll.