Just how many half-sibs feels right

An item in today’s Sunday Times and reprinted below tells of breaches in the HFEA rules that allow only ten families to be created from the sperm (or eggs) of each donor. Apparently one man has been responsible for 17 families.  This sounds like old and not particularly accurate news to me.  In an audit carried out by the HFEA five or six years ago, it was discovered that indeed the rules had been breached, but this was during the time when only ten CHILDREN per donor was permitted.  We certainly know of at least one early post-1991 half-sibling group of 18.  Since the Sperm, Egg and Embryo Donation (SEED) Review of 2005/6 it has been permitted for 10 FAMILIES to be created.   As evidence emerged during the 2010/11 review of Egg and Sperm Donation of considerable under-use of donors because of fears of breaching the ten family rule, it seems unlikely to me that this story is a new one or that it refers to breaches in family numbers.  Perhaps Josephine Quintavalle felt that too long had passed since she had an opportunity to bash the HFEA and used this old story for this purpose and to gain some publicity for her organisation at the same time.

Whether these breaches are old or new,  at least we have some rules about this in the UK.  In the States, which remains the Wild West as far as regulation about donation is concerned, very large groups of half-sibs are now emerging via the Donor Sibling Registry http://www.donorsiblingregistry.com    Wendy Kramer, who with her son Ryan, set up the voluntary registry some years ago now, campaigns for limits to children created from each donor, partly because of the psycho-social impact on donor conceived people and donors, but also because large groups of families are emerging who all have children suffering from genetic disorders clearly inherited from their donor.  Americans are very resistant to regulation that affects the personal choices in their lives and I fear there is a long way to go before limits on children or families are enforced on commercial sperm banks.

In July this year the HFEA announced that following widespread consultation amongst both stake-holders and the general public, that the number of families permitted to be created with the help of the same donor would remain at 10.  There is no scientific basis for this – the number was picked out of the air by the Warnock Committee prior to the 1990 HFE Act – but it remains a figure that ‘feels right’ to most people.  Some older donor conceived adults believe the number should be lower, feeling that belonging to a large half sibling group feels freakish, but others are comfortable knowing that there are many others related to them ‘out there’.   My own feeling is that having half-sibs in nine other families could feel like being part of a large extended family with cousins and half-cousins all over the place, and most people enjoy this.  Certainly ‘Zannah would love to know just one of her half-sibs…

A British sperm donor has fathered 17 families in breach of rules designed to prevent the chance of the children meeting and having an incestuous relationship.

Despite regulations from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the fertility regulator, limiting the number of couples that a donor can help to 10, it admitted last week that there have been breaches.
Another man has created 12 families while three others have created 11.
The HFEA admits it does not know how many times the rules have been broken but has announced a crackdown that will see Alan Doran, its chief executive, writing to fertility clinics to warn them that further breaches could risk their licence.
There is no limit to the number of children that each couple can have using the donor’s sperm. But taking the British average of two children per household, the man who created 17 families could have fathered at least 34 children.
Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “There is a real danger in a small country like the UK for donor-conceived children to meet up unknowingly with half-siblings.
“The 10-family limit imposed by the HFEA is obviously an attempt to reduce the probability that any future sexual relationships might ensue with the very worrying risks for offspring associated with consanguinity.
“It is truly lamentable that the HFEA has such inadequate systems in place that it is unable to monitor properly the numbers of babies conceived in this way.”
The 10-family restriction was also imposed to lessen the number of half-brothers and sisters that a child born from sperm donation could have.
Experts believe that children born through sperm donation could suffer psychological damage if they have a very large number of siblings.

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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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