Calling all former egg, sperm and embryo donors

It is not widely known that in the UK it is possible for formerly anonymous sperm, egg or embryo donors to re-register as ‘willing to be known’ to people they have helped create, from that person’s 18th birthday.  Why would any donor want to do this you might ask?  Well interestingly enough some former donors would actually have been happy to be identifiable but the rules at the time didn’t allow for that, so that’s one group.  And then there’s another bunch of men who donated for beer money as students  but now, with children of their own, have come to understand that the people they helped bring to life are likely to have needs that might include knowing something about them.  Women, as egg donors, tend to have an instinct that being known is going to be better for children in the future but of course those donating before 2005 had no option but to remain anonymous.

Not all donor conceived people want to have information about their donor and even fewer are interested in meeting him or her, but there are many for whom information ranging from medical history to talents, hobbies, education and probably most of all, values in life, are of great interest.  They may just be the key to some DC adults being able to say…OK, so now I get why I am the way I am.  Or in other cases being able to let out the breath they have been holding for years… “now I know”, even if the information doesn’t hold much they can connect with.  DC adults are rarely looking for a parent – most have perfectly good ones – but they, like anyone else, would like to know something about the lives of the people with whom they share half a genetic inheritance.  Does this seem like a lot to ask?

Most fertility clinics seem to find the needs of donor conceived people pretty forgettable. They are not their bread and butter, literally.  Their daily business (and what a business in the case of the private clinics) is getting women pregnant.  This brings in good money and is of course very rewarding when pregnancies occur.  Donors are, on the whole, treated in a utilitarian way.  They are a means to an end.  Egg donors, probably because of the time they spend in the clinic and the invasive procedures they have to go through, are by and large treated better than sperm donors.  There is a parallel to this in gendered responses to infertility.  Infertile women are the receivers of empathy, infertile men are assumed to be sexually inadequate.  Donors are protected by clinics who generally assumed in the past that donors would never want to be known.  It was fascinating to learn today from the donor co-ordinator at one branch of a group of clinics that a radio campaign for egg donors brought more than 900 enquiries and has led to sufficient donors going ahead to fulfil current needs.  And, apparently, very few asked how much they would be paid.  So much for not being able to recruit identifiable donors.

Anyway, my point is that with the focus firmly on making babies and making money, most clinics are not interested in getting involved in encouraging donors to re-register in the interests of donor conceived adults.  So who should be doing this?  Well, the HFEA clearly has a remit here.  Currently the information about re-registration is buried deep in their web site but participation in a group focusing on this issue has brought a promise that they will dig it out and place in a more prominent position, hopefully with a link from the front page.  Some text is being developed for DC Network and other organisations to place on their home pages and guidelines are being written for clinics so they will know what action they need to take should a former donor request re-registration.  But what is really needed is national publicity, both generally throughout the media and targeted at populations, like former medical students, who were prolific sperm donors in the past.  Can anyone help?

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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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2 Responses to Calling all former egg, sperm and embryo donors

  1. Kriss Fearon says:

    It is interesting to me that when you ask donors, recipients and donor-conceived people who they think gets better treatment, they always seem to say it’s members of the group they don’t belong to. I suspect this means no group gets treated in a way they’re entirely happy with in most clinics.

    I’m completely behind encouraging donors to re-register, provided they’re well informed about the ways it may change their situation. For some donors, who were vehemently against identifiability, it is an awful lot to ask. Donors might also need support to tell their family, to come to terms themselves with the idea of possibly meeting someone who they might not have thought about for decades. For those people it isn’t as easy as filling a form in – it’s potentially life-changing and needs a lot of thought and discussion.

    Post anonymity, your donation isn’t just something you did in the past. You’re a donor for the whole of your life, as long as there’s the potential for that action to affect your life now or in the future – even if it doesn’t.

    I was a pre-2005 donor and waived anonymity as soon as I could, but then I’d already thought a lot about the issues and would have donated anyway had the law been different. You only have to look at the type of donors and how they have changed over the last 15 years to see what this has meant. I suspect the reason egg donors were less affected by the legislation is that they were older to start with, more likely to have had a family and could understand more about the impact on children and families as a whole.

    In response to the ‘donating for beer money’ theme which is a common way of describing the motivation of young sperm donors pre-2005, apart from being belittling to men, doesn’t reflect the kind of young donors who approach the Trust now, male or female – I’m often impressed with their compassion, maturity and thoughtfulness, despite being in their late teens or early 20s. As we can see from the US, older people are just as likely to be motivated by beer money!

  2. oliviasview says:

    Thanks Kriss. I agree with most of what you say. I suppose the term ‘beer money’ was a bit flip but I do think that many pre 1991 sperm donors fell into that general category, partly because that was how sperm donation was advertised. They were definitely not encouraged to think about the future, for themselves or the children they might be helping to create. It is truly wonderful how the thoughtfulness of donors, particularly sperm donors, has changed. You are right of course about most UK egg donors being older and therefore more likely to understand the impact of what they were/are doing. It is of course a lifetime commitment. Sadly egg donors in many other countries are often very young women, who like our sperm donors pre 1991, are not encouraged to think about the future.

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