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10 years since the end of donor anonymity – have we got it right?

19 October 2015
Appeared in BioNews 824

The latest research into the wellbeing of donor-conceived children, and of parents who conceive using donated sperm or eggs, suggests that children and parents alike are faring well.

New work by the Centre for Family Research in Cambridge, presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's annual conference, concludes that families are 'highly functioning in relation to parent psychological wellbeing, and the quality of adolescents' relationships with their parents, irrespective of the specific method used in the child's conception'.

When it comes to single mothers who conceive with donor insemination (DI), the news is similarly positive. Another new piece of research from Cambridge concludes that 'children in single parent DI families are no more likely to experience emotional or behavioural difficulties than their two-parent counterparts'.

In short, 'not just the kids are all right; moms and families are, too'. These conclusions come a decade after a landmark change in UK law, which gave donor-conceived people access – upon reaching the age of 18 – to identifying information about their donor.

For many people, who think that donor conception is acceptable but that donor anonymity is not, the end of anonymity is a milestone to celebrate. However, this is not necessarily a universally held view. There are still differences of opinion about the way the law was changed 10 years ago – some complain that the change went too far, while others argue that it did not go anywhere near far enough.

Some donor-conceived people struggle to come to terms with the circumstances of their conception, and how this relates to their identity. Additionally, it remains the case that if someone does not know they are donor-conceived to begin with, they will not know that information about their donor exists and can be accessed. There are also people conceived with an anonymous donor from outside the UK, for whom no identifying information will be available.

This is why the Progress Educational Trust (PET, the charity that publishes BioNews) is working with the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) to organise a joint discussion, moderated by the NGDT's chair Charles Lister. This free-to-attend public event - 10 Years Since the End of Donor Anonymity: Have We Got It Right? - is taking place in central London on the evening of Tuesday 3 November.

Five speakers with different perspectives on donor conception will offer their views on the last 10 years of donor conception, and on what needs to happen in the next 10 years. The speaker panel will consist of Juliet Tizzard (Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), Jo Rose (who is donor-conceived and who brought a high-profile court case that contributed to UK's decision to end donor anonymity), Eric Blyth (Emeritus Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield), Venessa Smith (Quality Assurance and Patient Coordinator at the London Women's Clinic) and Susan Golombok (Professor of Family Research and Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge).

These speakers will address questions including:

  • What has happened since the change in the law? How have attitudes towards donor conception changed? Are there sufficient numbers of donors?

  • Are there still myths about the identifiability of donors that need to be dispelled? Do prospective parents have the right support in understanding what donor conception might mean for a child and in navigating the emotional complexities of becoming a parent through donor conception?

  • What informs parents' decision as to whether, when and how to tell a child they are donor-conceived? Should more be done to encourage parents to tell?

  • Can the regulated sector in the UK do more to discourage people from having overseas treatment or choosing unregulated donors? Should it?

  • Have we achieved an appropriate balance between allowing reproductive choice and considering the welfare of the donor-conceived child?

Crucially, much of the event's running time will be devoted to letting members of the audience address these issues as well. Attendees will be invited to put questions and comments of their own to the speaker panel.

29 February 2016 - by Professor Sonia Allan and Damian Adams 
The state parliament of Victoria in Australia has passed legislation that will enable all donor-conceived people to receive identifying information about their sperm, oocyte, or embryo donor(s). The model adopted is a world first in its application to donor conception...
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...
30 November 2015 - by Pod Academy 
If you missed '10 Years Since the End of Donor Anonymity: Have We Got It Right?', a debate organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the National Gamete Donation Trust, then you are in luck. This podcast, produced by Pod Academy, captures some of the highlights from the debate....
30 November 2015 - by Nina Barnsley, Jennie Hunt and Julia Feast OBE 
The resounding message that came from the recent PET/NGDT event was that more needs to be done to support parents of donor-conceived children in telling them about their origins...
16 November 2015 - by Charles Lister 
The Chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust argues that the whole fertility sector must take seriously the need of donor-conceived children to know about their origins...
Stick to scientific terminology ( - 20/10/2015)
Bionews should have an editor to filter out confusing emotional language.

"parents who conceive using donated sperm or eggs, suggests that children and parents alike are faring  well."

People don't conceive children with sperm or eggs they conceive them with other people - the offspring are not some scrambled egg/human or sperm/human hybrids, they are human beings with human parents who conceived them.  Don't imply that infertile people can conceive when they can't.  This is a website about biological news so when you write the word parent it goes without saying you mean biological parent and if you mean anything else be explicit about it ie "social parent" "adoptive parent" "legal-but-unrelated-parent" "step parent"

Nothing has changed in  a million years - fertile men and women are conceiving together and when their children are born they become parents of their respective sons and daughters.  Human reproduction

The article is not about how people fair with estranged bio parents.
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