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?