The Nuffield Council on BioEthics are having a close look at all human organ and gamete (eggs and sperm) donation and as part of this are running a twelve to fourteen month project considering the role of genetic, as opposed to social and legal, parentage in the context of families created through assisted reproduction and donor gametes. Walter was invited to speak, as were other invited participants, at their scoping meeting on 9th June. Walter has now shown me the report of this meeting and unlike many reports from get togethers of this sort, it is worth reading as it covers most of the really important questions that arise around the modern practice of creating families with the help of a donor. It also highlights issues that are often glossed over, like the way medicalised or euphemistic terminology is often used with the aim of creating neutrality or avoiding senstivities, the lack of ‘evidence’ in many areas and whether weight should be placed on anecdotal accounts, as happened in the recent ruling on donor anonymity in British Columbia. Another recommendation is that “Complexity should be highlighted, avoiding the danger that everything is seen as straightforward, with just occasional exceptions”. Well said, that woman or man!
One point in particular struck me – “Individual stakeholders may also hold conflicting views: genetic information may be seen simultaneously both as important (this is information ‘about them’ which one should disclose to one’s children) and as not important (our family life is just as rich as in genetically related families).”
In my own family and in DC Network we are very familiar with these conflicting views or ‘mixed feelings’ as we often refer to them. All of us who have confronted the need to use donor eggs, sperm or embryos know the push and pull of desperately wanting to create a family whilst at the same time having to manage the massive disappointment of not being able to have the child of a much loved partner…or for single women, not finding the right man to have a child with. I recall the sadness, even though it is nearly thirty years ago, of knowing that I would never have a child with Walter’s lovely blue eyes, his temperament, intellect and kindness, and I can still be moved to tears by the sight of his ‘family’ nose that of course none of our children have. Yet at the same time I feel the love of a tiger, and did from the start, for the children we could have and who wouldn’t be here if Walter had been fertile.
Over the years and talking to many, many couples and individuals it has become clear that it is those people who can manage to balance these mixed feelings who, on the whole, do best as donor conception families. They are the people to whom ‘telling’ children feels natural and right and who have fewer fears about other people knowing. I suppose it is not surprising that we have a lot of counsellors, psychotherapists and people in the liberal arts generally in the Network, although this is by no means everyone. Those who have a tendency not to see things in shades of grey often struggle with the prospect of others knowing about their private lives and find it harder to ‘ride the balance’. They may also understand on a thinking level why children ought to be told but find it emotionally difficult to carry through. As infertility is present in all personality types, it is this latter group that DCN needs to target…but at the same time it is probably these people who instinctively avoid us!