Choosing a donor is a big deal. This has nothing to do with trying to create ‘designer babies’ and everything to do with stacking the odds so that a child is likely to broadly ‘fit’ in a family. It is also helpful for potential parents to feel comfortable with a donor as part of the bonding process with a child. If parents are able to read the pen picture a donor has written about him or herself and view the letter that the donor has written for a child, they are likely to get some idea of who this person is and how receptive they are likely to be if or when, as an adult over 18, some offspring wish to have contact. This can give confidence to a parent that the donor is not someone to be afraid of, but someone they might all like to know at some point in their lives.
Of course there is a continuum between wanting a child to ‘fit’ and wanting a child to look like and have talents and abilities that reflect exactly what the ‘missing genes’ of the non-genetic parent would have brought. Potential parents who seek such an exact match have probably not yet adjusted to needing a donor to create their family and are still looking to make a child that is a little bit of both of them. When we have contact with couples like this we talk about passing on values and how, potentially,these are more lasting than genetic inheritance.
In the old days when sperm donors were nearly all medical students, some DC children in very ordinary families found themselves feeling out of place as the only person in the family with intellectual interests and academic ability. Bill Cordray, a donor conceived person from the States who must be in his late sixties now, felt like this. His father, who was like this himself, wanted Bill to be a sporty, rough and tumble sort of boy, whilst Bill was actually quiet and bookish by nature. He became an architect. When he almost forced his mother into telling him about his donor conception when he was in his thirties (questioning once again his huge difference to his father) he was almost relieved to hear that he had not been the result of an affair by his mother. It explained an awful lot.
These days, in open families, difference is much easier to account for. DCN parents, being much less fearful than most, are happy to acknowledge and celebrate difference, allowing their children to be who they want and need to be. Donors also come from a much wider range of backgrounds so it is much more possible to match donor and family backgrounds and educational level. That is, if clinics give out the information.
It has come to our notice recently that some UK clinics are restricting the amount of donor information they are giving to would-be parents. This particularly applies to egg donors. This is against the guidance given by the HFEA in the 8th Code of Practice. They say it is because they have had incidences where donors and recipients have been able to make contact with each other via the clinic’s own on-line forums.
Two points here. First of all, if this is something they really don’t want to happen they should be monitoring their forums more closely and taking down posts that give information that could be identifying. But more importantly, what is wrong with making contact if this is what both parties want? Particularly in egg donation, donors are often very keen to help another woman have a child. There is often a lot of altruistic feeling and solidarity amongst women who share a situation. Contact could help both women feel supported and acknowledged. A child could potentially benefit significantly as well from knowing who their donor is from an early age. I’m not saying there couldn’t be downsides too, but the potential for good is great.
For clinics however, this kind of contact seems taboo. Not because they might just be accused by the HFEA of allowing a breach of donor anonymity (to recipients) but because they can’t bear anything that is out of their control. Also something that brings with it the possible messiness of human relationships. Let’s keep everything nice, cool and clinical guys. They would like to keep making babies using cutting edge science completely separate from the humanity of creating families. Sorry guys, not possible.
DCN, another influential lobbying body in the fertility field and several potential parents have reported the rogue clinics to the HFEA who say they will take action. We will be monitoring them to see what happens next.