A matter of human rights?

An interesting question has been raised, not for the first time, on the web forum Fertility Friends http://www.fertilityfriends.co.uk/   It is to do with protecting the privacy of donor conceived children.  The poster, the husband of the woman registered on the forum, believes that it is a betrayal of trust to share information with anyone else about a child’s origins by donor conception without their permission.  He believes in being honest with children about their conception but not in telling anyone else until the child is old enough to give their permission for the information to be shared.  Moreover, he believes this to be a human rights matter and quotes the HR Act thus –

“Article 8: Right to privacy
(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

This is undoubtedly a credible position that shows considerable respect for the autonomy and rights of the child or person concerned.  However, is it really in the interests of the child that no-one else knows until the s/he gives permission, particularly given that a child would have to be seven or eight before they they could genuinely understand what they were giving permission for?  What if the child chose to mention something about eggs, sperm or their donor at school before this sort of age?   At DCN we advocate telling teachers about DC so that they can support a child who chooses to talk about it and step in knowledgeably to help them or to respond to ignorant comments from other children.  Teachers caught on the hop could find themselves denying what a child was saying or sending for social workers because they thought the child’s knowledge of words like sperm sounded over-sexualised for their age and all that that implies.   The FF poster believes that the principal of ‘telling’ and that of privacy for the child are different issues, but the whole point of starting to tell children under the age of five is that they never know when they didn’t know about being donor conceived and the whole business is never a big deal for them.  If you then at age seven or eight start asking their permission to tell their grandparents, uncles and aunt, doctor and teacher, the child may well wonder why they don’t know already if the message is that being donor conceived is pretty normal.  It clearly isn’t if Grannie doesn’t know.  If instead of starting early you tell the child at around seven or eight (in order to stop them blabbing at school before they have full understanding) then you risk the issue moving from being something that is on the family agenda that comes up naturally from time to time to an event where you have to sit the child down to ‘tell’ and ask their permission to tell other people.  How normal is that?

Over eighteen years at DCN we have NO evidence at all that young children mind others knowing about them being donor conceived.  Older children can make the decision for themselves as they mature and change schools and may go through a period, like our own son, when they choose not to talk about it because they want to be just like their friends.  They usually emerge from this stage around age 17.  If friends knew the information from an earlier time, they tend to forget, particularly in the pre-occupation with self that is part of normal adolescence.  There is no evidence that it is used against children or young people.

My own take on this is that as parents we have to take responsibility for telling others who need to know (and that is not everybody by any means) until the child is old enough to take this responsibility on for themselves.  The age for this will vary from child to child but is likely to be between 8 and 12, with perhaps a transitional period where the responsibility is consulted upon and shared.  Parents do have to be sensitive to the moment when a child would prefer to have charge of the information and be prepared to ‘let go’, but in a family where there is easy, open communication this should not be hard to do.

I’d love to know what you think.

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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One Response to A matter of human rights?

  1. ATO Mum says:

    Hi Olivia
    I am with you on this. I’m an adopted person with a donor-conceived child and I don’t remember every being told about being adopted, so I must have been told very early and it wouldn’t have entered my head to keep it a secret, or even that there was something wrong with it that it should be a secret, and I hope to be able to give my DC child that same gift my parents gave me. The argument that donor-conception shouldn’t be shared until the child can give permission as a human rights issue suggests that somehow donor-conception is more private than any other kind of conception. If you followed it to its extreme you could end up saying for every child: ‘this child might be adopted, donor-conceived, or conceived naturally but no one else is allowed to know’. It also flies in the face of all the research that shows that it is psychologicaly better for children if they have always known and don’t remember being told.
    I feel desperately sorry for donor-conceived or adopted children that are told late, as it seems from what I read and those I have met that so many that have a big issue with it. It seems that often people or those involved attribute their problems with it to them not knowing their genetic parents, from my psychology training, I have to lean towards the idea that it is more to do with the fact that the parents they loved and trusted throughout their childhood have at best ommitted to tell them and at worst lied to them for all that time about something so important and fundamental. While I know such parents have the best intentions, it must be hugely unsettling to find that something you had based your identity on growing up is not true. Just as it probably would be in reverse, if you were told you weren’t genetically related to your parents and found out that you were.
    I know everyone is just trying to do the best for their kids whatever they do, but I definitely agree that letting children and others who need to know early is for the best.

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