Walter and I have just spent a very bizarre evening in a private suite at a very posh hotel in Mayfair. We were there as invitees of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce to hear the Medical Director of one of Spain’s leading fertility clinics give a talk about gamete donation. We were the only guests present!
As there were only about a dozen chairs put out in front of a display screen it was clear from the start that not many people were expected. But as the minutes ticked by from the 6.30 start time, it became obvious that we were going to be the only seat occupants, along with three delightful young members of the Chamber of Commerce staff. Undeterred, the female medical director ploughed on with her presentation in excellent English, this being her third or fourth language, having been brought up in Belgium, married to an Italian and currently living in Barcelona!
During talk preceding the presentation the doctor was keen for us to understand that for Spaniards genetic connections are not important. Apparently what is valued are social and emotional relationships and this is why so little information is supplied about gamete donors because in their country it just doesn’t matter whose genes people carry. What matters is whether or not people love each other.
Well isn’t that just wonderful I thought. And if genes actually don’t matter at all, why is it that information about the fact of donor conception is not revealed. Because if genes don’t matter and using eggs or sperm from someone else doesn’t matter, then why isn’t it common knowledge that children have been conceived with the help of a celebrated other, rather than keeping their identity secret.
In fact the medicalisation of donor conception is so complete at this clinic, and I suspect most others, that it was impossible for this doctor to see the child’s perspective at all. As a Belgian she wished she could offer her patients the choice of identifiable or anonymous donors (as they do in her country of origin) but saw this as nothing more than the right of the parents to exercise choice. The argument that parental choice often closed the door to the child exercising their choice cut no ice with her. This woman was keen for people to know that by choosing to have donation services in Spain they were choosing anonymity, no contact ever and limited information. If they didn’t want this, they could choose to go elsewhere. She shrugged when I pointed out that until very recently many potential parents in the UK felt they had no choice at all, given the waiting lists in this country.
Do Spaniards really not care about genetic connections? The Chamber of Commerce staff by word and gesture led me to believe that this was not a universal truth about the Spanish people. In a short space of time they could comprehend the complexity of the issues involved whereas the doctor saw things only in terms of medical procedures and decisions taken and laws made by medical professionals and lawyers. Would-be parents could like it or lump it.
A psychologist I know at another Spanish clinic has said that she is waiting for the time when Spanish donor conceived people rise up against the system in their country as have DC adults in other places. The presiding doctor tonight did not know when donation started in Spain and so how old the first cohort of sperm donor conceived people must now be. Whenever this was it seems highly unlikely that many of them would have been told about their conception but some must have found out by accident. Could it be that the fact of their conception, or the deception that has been practised over the years, does not matter to them as the doctor implied? Maybe it will be the British offspring of Spanish donors who will be the ones to mount the challenge. Time will tell, but I couldn’t help but be chilled tonight by the denial of the needs of (at least some) of the children. That can’t be right.