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Book Review: Donor Conception for Life - Psychoanalytic Reflections on New Ways of Conceiving the Family

1 September 2015
By Dr Berenice Golding
Senior Lecturer, School of Human and Health Sciences, University of Huddersfield
Appeared in BioNews 817

Donor Conception for Life: Psychoanalytic Reflections on New Ways of Conceiving the Family

Edited by Katherine Fine

Published by Karnac Books

ISBN-10: 178220203X, ISBN-13: 978-1782202035

Buy this book from Amazon UK

Donor conception (DC) continues to reshape our understanding of what constitutes 'family'. When others, namely donors, are involved in the reproductive experiences of some families, the biological basis upon which traditional views of conception and birth are framed is challenged.

This book focuses on DC and, drawing upon professional and personal perspectives, renders visible some of the hidden issues that prevail when DC is used to build a family. In doing so, it demands that the reader consider alternative ways to view 'family' when 'family' is not created in the way that society has traditionally understood. The reader is invited to consider different family formations such as single mothers and same-sex parents for whom DC is necessary for them to achieve parenthood.

This edited collection provides a new layer of understanding about the psychological, psycho-social, socio-cultural, biological and genetic aspects associated with family formation through DC. It reveals some of the complexities and tensions inherent in the decision-making processes of those considering DC and the concept of 'family' is considered within the context of DC. A key theme that runs throughout is that of biological and genetic connectedness with emphasis being given to openness; informing those conceived through donor conception about how they came to be.

The book is divided into four parts: part one focuses on psychological issues related to DC, part two on an exploration of some of the issues facing individuals and couples using DC, part three considers the impact of donor-conceived children's knowledge of their conception, while part four draws together the key ideas that have emerged in the book.

Highlights include the interesting reflections on the role of psychoanalysis in the context of DC. For example, psychoanalysis is a key focus in chapter three where Susan Vaughan discusses how DC represents new reproductive choices for lesbian couples wishing to become parents. Some emphasis is given to issues such as whether to use a known or anonymous sperm donor, whose eggs will be used (given the viability of both women's eggs) and who will carry the resultant pregnancy.

Further, drawing upon her role as a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, she discusses the psychological implications associated with reproductive decision-making. This illustrates some of the tensions that may prevail when a lesbian woman decides that she wishes to become a parent. Vaughan clearly delineates some of the additional considerations required when working with lesbian couples on their journey towards parenthood.

By contrast, the focus of chapter five is men's experiences of infertility. Here, Amy Schofield reports upon interviews with men, as they sought to circumvent male factor infertility. Schofield purports that for some men there is a shift in the way they conceptualise 'fatherhood'. Significantly, this chapter brings to the fore the often reticent voices of men within the discourse of infertility, the use of assisted reproductive technologies and donor conception.

Meanwhile, in chapter six, Diane Ehrensaft provides an analysis of identity, attachment and individuation in families created using assisted conception. In her account, Ehrensaft utilises the term 'birth other' to identify the person donating gametes or offering the use of their womb. The ensuing discussions are of interest as they illustrate further the myriad emotions felt by families who circumvented their infertility through the use of DC.

In a similar vein, Ken Daniels discusses DC families and how relationships within them can be managed and understood. Comparable to other contributions, Daniels considers the secrecy within which DC was once framed and the more recent shift towards openness in DC families.

Referring to his research in the area he describes some of the key considerations for families created through DC emphasising the importance of talking about family creation. He also considers different relationships, and the management of these, following DC and the fact that openness may lead to resultant offspring seeking to meet with the person who donated the gametes that helped to create them.

I believe this book provides a further layer of understanding about donor conception and family formation. Significantly, it may enable the reader to consider some of the wider implications and how they might apply to their own practice.

Moreover, I think this book would be of interest to anyone who has a special interest in psychoanalysis in the area of reproductive donation. This might include counsellors, researchers, healthcare professionals, lecturers, students, and clinicians. It may also be useful for those considering DC due to the fact that it includes some personal insights. I would recommend this book; this review cannot do justice to the discerning perspectives covered. It is an insightful and interesting read.

Buy The Story Within - Personal Essays on Genetics and Identity from Amazon UK.

14 December 2015 - by Susan Tranfield-Thomas 
'Is nowhere a donor-conception free zone?' asks the eponymous hero, 11-year-old Archie Nolan, as his quest to establish the meaning of 'family' in the context of donor conception leads him to ask more and more questions about origins, genetics and the intricacies of relationships in 21st century Britain...
20 July 2015 - by Dr Ëlo Luik 
Donor conception continues to mobilise resistance and concern. How, when, under which conditions and by whom reproductive donation should be accessed remains a divisive and controversial issue...
26 May 2015 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Susan Golombok's 'Modern Families: Parents and Children in New Family Forms' challenges the assumption that the traditional nuclear family is the best environment in which to raise children...
9 February 2015 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
This collection of interdisciplinary perspectives and empirical observations on the meanings that are attached to a concept of 'relatedness' in fertility treatment is an important read for anyone involved in assisted conception...
1 September 2014 - by Dr Jonathan Ives 
Emma Cresswell, The Telegraph tells us, 'fought a six-year battle to have the man she thought was her father removed from her birth certificate' and now reportedly hopes that others will follow her example...
14 July 2014 - by James Brooks 
How has the genetics boom impacted donor-conceived people, their families and the choices they make? Does genetics really provide vital information which people need to take on board to make informed decisions? Has family law moved with the times to take new reproductive technologies and arrangements into account?...
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