Back in the saddle following nearly two weeks in France and good to get my head back into the donor conception world with our visit to Dublin to talk with counsellors in the newly formed Irish Fertility Counsellors Association. It is always a pleasure to go to Ireland. There is something about Irish people that makes me feel warm and welcomed and I just love Irish voices…even the hard and broad Dublin accent, which my more refined Irish friends make terrible fun of. The group of women (and one man) we met with on Saturday were delightful as, in my experience, most counsellors are. Donor conception is in it’s infancy in Ireland and they had provided us with a list of questions and issues they wanted to discuss. Because of a lack of legislation and regulations surrounding donor conception which makes it impossible to protect donors or recipients in the way that the HFE Act does in the UK, no donors are recruited within the country. Sperm is imported from Denmark and most people requiring egg donation are referred to clinics in Spain, although certainly in the recent past embryos created in the Ukraine with sperm from the recipient’s partner and an anonymous Ukrainian egg donor, have been implanted in Irish clinics. The issues that arise for couples and single women are very similar to those of UK residents but with an added edge of the stigma that has largely dropped away in most of the UK now. The counsellors felt that the climate about ‘telling’ the child was changing significantly towards openness but that very many people were very anxious about what others would say and about how the child would be treated at school. Also, because all donors are anonymous, a common and often aggressively posed question from would be and actual parents is about the wisdom of telling a child s/he is donor conceived when there is no further information that can be given.
So often the answers to these complex questions comes down to basic beliefs and values. If you value integrity and honesty in relationships then telling your child as much information as you have about their donor – whether it is a lot or a little – is clearly going to be the right thing to do. If parents are confident and comfortable about their decisions then they will be able to be proud and open about their child’s beginnings and celebrate the culture, ethnicity and country of their donor and the clinic where they conceived. If they secretly feel ashamed and stigmatised by the use of donor conception then they are unlikely to want to share information with the child or anyone else about this different way of creating a family. A counsellors’ sometimes very difficult role is to explore these feelings and tease out what is really going on.
Walter and I were impressed with this group and hope to keep in touch with them in the future. Hopefully, we will be going to Cork later in the year to talk with would-be and current parents of donor conceived children, an event that the counsellor in the clinic there has long been wanting to organise.
And to finish, just a comment on the story in the Sunday Times today on yet another known donor scenario that went disastrously wrong, this time involving the now defunct Man Not Included agency. It involved a man donating sperm, with the apparent agreement of his wife, to a lesbian couple who, because of fertility problems, needed to use a surrogate mother who self-inseminated with the donor’s sperm. Problems arose when the wife of the donor had feelings about the baby and indeed about the putative relationship of her husband to the surrogate and broke down weeping at a dinner party. The whole story is enormously complex but seems to have been resolved satisfactorily (at least as far as the adults are concerned as the children are still small) but the donor admitted that he had entered into the arrangement very naively, with complete disregard for the law and without taking into account the possibility that his wife’s feelings might change.
The bottom line is that known donor arrangements MUST involve counsellors, lawyers and most of all protracted periods of talking and listening on the part of all parties over a long period of time before an agreement of understandings and expectations is drawn up. And most important of all, the needs of the child should be at the heart of the matter.