The tension between emotions and science

What is it that makes people so uncomfortable about admitting to an emotional basis for thoughts or actions?   Or put it another way, have we become so gripped by the need to be rational and scientific that we have become fearful of emotions?  So much so that an emotional basis for thought or action is sometimes seen as somehow less worthy of being taken seriously than one based strictly on rational thinking.  Of course we all need to regulate our emotions, know how to manage them and understand their impact on others but without these feelings I believe we are reduced to mere automatons.  Human beings are above all relational animals.  We need other people to help understand who we are and sensitivities to the emotions of both ourselves and others are fundamental to the making and maintaining of relationships…both in the family and at work.  Emotional responses to the situations we find ourselves in are a normal part of being human.  Gut feelings, intuition, being in touch with our emotions, can help keep us safe and are often the best guide in telling us how to respond and what to do.  Sometimes it is also good to listen to them and then wait a bit to see if feelings change before taking action.  I am listening to my own gut at the moment and it is telling me that I need to temper what I say about one of the two things that triggered this post.  I’ll just write about the other one.

I am a huge admirer of Progress Educational Trust.  They do really good work educating both professionals and a lay audience on matters to do with assisted reproduction, embryo research and genetics.  But their response to the consultation by Nuffield Bio-Ethics on the Ethical Aspects of Information Disclosure in Donor Conception is chilling in the way it distances itself from the emotional aspects of information provision to donor conceived people and potential parents.

Take the question ‘What information might a donor-conceived person need about the donor, either during childhood or once they become an adult?  Please explain.’

The response from PET is as follows – ‘It is not axiomatic that donor-conceived people, during childhood or adulthood, need any information about the donor(s) from whose donation they were conceived.  It is possible for donor-conceived people to ascribe emotional importance to any type of information about donors, in which case access to such information may be a necessity in the opinion of those donor-conceived people.  While donor-conceived people should be able to obtain, on request, information (to which they are legally entitled) that the donor has provided, it does not necessarily follow from this that donors should be encouraged to give more than the rudimentary information that has been legally required of them since the entitlement to donor anonymity was removed in the UK.  It is not the place of the UK fertility regulator , or any other authority, to make or encourage any pejorative assumptions about the amount of information that a gamete donor provides.’

A very similar response is given to the question about the information that parents might need about a donor in order to enable them to carry out their parenting role.

Not only is emotion downgraded to something almost shameful, but the role of information in helping parents to feel comfortable and confident about their donor – a vital ingredient contributing towards the likelihood of parents being open with their children – is completely ignored.  Also the visceral need of some donor conceived people to know and understand the person who has contributed to their existence is dismissed as ‘merely emotional’, although these are not the actual words used.   There may well be a strong emotional component but I would say, what’s wrong with that, why should it be a reason for denying them what they need…particularly if information about being donor conceived has been withheld from them during formative years.

I am sad and disappointed that an organisation that sets out to explain science to the lay person could show a less than human face when confronted by a topic that inevitably must have an emotional component.  Can it be ethical to ignore such an important dimension of human nature and experience?

Read for yourselves at


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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2 Responses to The tension between emotions and science

  1. Kriss Fearon says:

    It’s difficult when the need for objectivity, which is so highly valued in science and academia, means that such basic human needs are expressed without apparent empathy for the feelings involved, feelings which after all drive many of the ethical issues around donation.

    Marilyn Crawshaw’s done some interesting research on this as I’m sure you’re aware. The Trust’s donor satisfaction survey is also asking specifically about whether donors have filled in the ‘pen portrait’ and who helped them, so we have some actual information about clinic practice. I think we would then like to do some work on helping and supporting donors in writing pen portraits.

    Having said that, I have never got round to writing mine, but it’s been in the back of my mind for ages. That ‘blank piece of paper’ thing. It is pretty obvious that a dc person might find this useful.

  2. marilynn says:

    I very much agree with your opinion here. They take a rather cavalier attitude about what is and is not necessary and yes they disregard emotion. I think the emotion they are most likely to have is anger over having information be absolutely available but withheld in order for someone else to pretend like reality did not happen. Excuse them for living.

    I do think that donor offspring need to practice their logical legal and scientific arguments in favor of knowing and being known to both of their genetic parents all of their genetic parents relatives. The entire family needs to know who they are as much as they need to know their entire family otherwise they cannot avoid inbreeding with one another. Not knowing the identity of an immediate relative is dangerous. Imagine if your brother was one of these men with 150 – 500 children that he agreed to father but not raise – what if your children had 150 – 500 1st cousins living within an hour of your own home. I think that alone is an excellent reason for the identity of the gamete donor be known to all of his offspring and that his offspring all know eachother as well as the rest of his relatives and of course remain in relatively frequent contact – at least enough to be made aware of any additions to the family and so that pertinent medical information can be shared among the members of the family if they so desire.

    It is really insulting for anyone or any organization to imply that donor offspring don’t actually need to know the identity of their genetic parents. Are donor offspring somehow exempted from inbreeding from their relatives as their genetic parents were exempted from parental responsibility? Its not real. Donors are the ones that end up with offspring not the intended parents they end up raising the kid but from a medical standpoint those people are not the parent of the child that they are raising and their relatives are not that child’s kin. Of course we don’t want the offspring and the intended parents relatives thinking that the child is their genetic kin when they are not nor do we want the donor and his / her relatives thinking that the donors offspring are not kin.

    We have created a public health emergency from all the secrecy and simply obtaining medical info from the donor and making it available to a person at 18 will not solve the problem. Good for you for fighting against those statements.

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