Partners of donors MUST give proper consent

I don’t like her arguments but the woman who is objecting to her husband donating sperm without her consent has a point (Sunday Times yesterday and Mail on Line today http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2193780/Sperm-donation-Wife-man-secretly-donated-sperm-calls-spouses-consent-mandatory.html

It is ridiculous that sperm should be seen as a ‘marital asset’ and that the condition Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder should be de-valued by being used to describe the wife’s state on finding out her husband had become a donor.  However, in an era of open identity of donors to offspring at age 18, it must be right that spouses and partners of donors – both sperm and eggs – should positively agree to the act of donation, demonstrating that they understand the long term implications of the gift and support their partner if/when a young person does make contact.  It is also important that children conceived into a donors’ own family grow up knowing, from a fairly young age, the contribution that their father or mother has made to bringing another family into being.  This can only happen in a way that is comfortable for the whole family if partners are in agreement from the beginning.

Just ‘offering’ counselling to donors is not good enough.  All egg, sperm and embryo donors should have a minimum of two sessions with a counsellor, with the partner being present on at least one of these occasions, thus facilitating proper informed consent.  Donors and their partners meeting with others to talk about the implications of their intended gift would be an additional way to ensure that all the issues had been covered and the needs of both families and all the children concerned were understood.

Making counselling for donors and their partners mandatory is one of the changes I would like to see come about as part of the new HFEA Donation Strategy Group, plus giving the children in the family of a donor the right to have their name on the HFEA register so that they could have contact with half-siblings at age 18 if they chose to do so.  All part of shifting the emphasis from ‘treatment’ to a much needed family building perspective.

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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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9 Responses to Partners of donors MUST give proper consent

  1. Kriss Fearon says:

    I interpreted the PTSD as being her husband’s condition after she’d had a traumatic birth, and he made the decision in circumstances where he was not in the best mental health.

    Doesn’t it depend what kind of a relationship you are in? I agree that if you’re in a serious relationship with the possibility of children then you need to discuss it. However I was in a relationship the first time I donated – we’d been together a few months and went on to spend about two years together. We split up because he didn’t want kids, ironically. He was very supportive of my choice, but I would really hate the thought that I needed a partner’s ‘permission’ to decide what I wanted to do with my own body, in a relationship which was committed but had not lasted long at that point. I’d particularly hate someone else deciding who I should talk to or have counselling with, since there were things I would have wanted to discuss with a counsellor but didn’t know him well enough to tell him – things about my own family and other people’s privacy. To be frank, I’d have had a lot more pause for thought if my mum had been upset by it (she wasn’t). Most people don’t get married these days it’s harder to define what partnership means.

    It’s difficult because I can also understand why this man’s wife has a problem with it. His decisions will have an impact on the whole family. Her comment about feeling as if the child had come from an affair, which is clearly nonsense, reflects the fact that she feels betrayed and deceived. This is why I talked to my family first despite donating before 2005.

  2. oliviasview says:

    Yes, you are right of course Kriss about the kind of relationship you are in, but if it is one where you are planning on having children together, whether or not you marry, then I think it is very important that both partners agree. Perhaps two years together or more…. I would also say that counsellors should draw potential donors attention to the possible reaction of parents and that they should be talked with as well, although I think the final decision should rest with the donor and his or her partner.

  3. Leslie says:

    Hello: I too have a problem requiring a ‘partner’ versus a spouse to give consent to a donation. A partner in general is not a spouse and this requirement in my view dilutes the idea of a spousal relationship while elevating a partner into a spousal relationship. In other words, a circle is not a circle unless the circle is closed! I do completely agree with an understand the necessity of disclosure, the why’s and the rationale behind this but there are a few seperate issues: the donor’s p.o.v., the childrens p.o v., those in ‘relationship’ to the intended donor. I certainly would not want to have to get the approval of someone whom I was “in relationship” to but had not married (for whatever the reasons).

    • oliviasview says:

      Leslie
      I think you are leading us into a different debate here. Something about a qualitative as well as legal difference between a spouse and a partner. As Kriss has pointed out, many couples do not marry these days but remain committed to each other and to the children of that partnership. I believe that if there is an ‘intention to parent’ between a couple – even if that is sometime in the future, then the partner of an intending donor should be party to the agreement to donate.

  4. I’m not sure this could be a legally enforceable idea. Donating sperm is legal, like abortion, and the partner cannot prohibit it, although it intimately involves them.

    I would be upset if my husband donated sperm, and I’m sure he’d be devastated if I unilaterally decided to abort our child. But I’m not sure there should be legal mechanisms that allowed spouses to exercise control over each other’s reproductive choices.

  5. oliviasview says:

    Hi Pronoia
    Thank you for your contributions and good to hear from you. In the UK all donors have to agree to being identifiable to children in families they help create from the young person’s 18th birthday. If a man or woman donates their gametes with the informed consent and support of their spouse or partner it seems to me much more likely that the donor will make him or herself available to the enquiring adult. If their donation has been hidden then there is likely to be upset all round and a good chance that the donor may refuse contact or reject the young person. It is with a child/young persons/adult interests in mind that I advocate mandatory counselling of both donor and spouse/partner.

  6. marilyn says:

    “It is also important that children conceived into a donors’ own family grow up knowing, from a fairly young age, the contribution that their father or mother has made to bringing another family into being.”

    What did their parent contribute? If it was a gamete that their parent contributed by their parent then they would not be impacted..but if it was one of their siblings that their parent contributed then they might be kind of upset by it. Should the children the donor kept feel lucky and special to be kept rather than given away? Why did their parent keep them and give the others away?

    • oliviasview says:

      Yes of course it is important that the children donors conceive into their own family should be told about their parent’s contribution to creating another family. But I cannot disagree more strongly with your language in the second paragraph. Kept? Given away? Ridiculous!

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