This afternoon Walter and I are going to be seeing yet another couple with donor conceived adult children who have not yet been told about their start in life. We don’t know the particular circumstances of this family but I am pretty sure that their story will include being told by their clinic that there was no need for them to tell their children about their conception with the help of a donor. We will discover if they struggled with this advice or were relieved by it, but it seems they definitely want to tell them now.
What a contrast this is to the conversation I had earlier this morning with Alison Bagshawe who founded the UK egg donation agency Altrui. Alison is passionate about bringing together the right donor with the right recipient and this means that each need to know quite a lot about each other. In keeping with UK law this is non-identifying information but in contrast to clinic practice where donors know nothing about the people their eggs are going to, Alison finds that knowing something about the family they are helping encourages donors to understand the implications of donation and remain committed. Altrui is a relatively new service and so far a donor and her recipient have yet to meet, but Alison does offer a letter-box service for communication between the two parties and this is well used. Like all UK donors since 2005, the women who donate through Altrui have to agree to be identifiable to any children they help to create from that child’s 18th birthday. One of the main reasons behind the care that Altrui takes to make a good match is because the donor is likely someday to be known to the person they have contributed to bringing into being and potentially become involved in that family. If parents have been able to talk about the donor in a knowledgeable and warm way during the child’s life, then the chances are that the contact will be a good one. And even if the donor conceived person chooses not to make the contact, they will have the very positive experience of knowing quite a lot about the donor and thinking well of her.
If a potential egg recipient indicates that she and her partner may not be telling a child about the use of a donor in conception Alison will suggest that they talk with a counsellor about this. If they continue with this view, she will gently suggest they seek egg donation elsewhere and return their money to them. Altrui may be a business but it has ethics at it’s heart rather than money.
Looking towards the future I see models of recruitment like Altrui transforming the face of donor conception by equalising the interests of all parties, with the needs of the donor conceived person leading the way. In Boston, Mass. counsellor Ellen Glazer brings together egg donors and recipients to meet and get to know each other, either before treatment, which she refers to as ‘collaborative reproduction’, takes place or soon after. Her aims are similar to those of Alison and I suspect that as Altrui grows and becomes more established and accepted by the HFEA and clinics, that meetings between donors and recipients will become a regular occurrence.
My predicted future is a place where medically based clinics will no longer have any role at all in the recruitment of donors. It is not where their expertise lays. Whether or not future egg or sperm donation agencies have at their heart the same ethical ideals as Altrui may be a matter of regulation, it being reasonable to assume that the HFEA could licence agencies in the same way as they now do clinics. This notion may make those opposed to even more regulation in the fertility sector spit, but I suspect no-one would want to see agencies promoting glamorous, high SAT score donors willing to part with their eggs for vast sums of money, as have proliferated in the States. In my picture of the future donors and recipients will meet and be facilitated in making arrangements for contact in the years ahead that all parties feel comfortable with. Ellen Glazer encourages both donor and recipient to leave their details with the Donor Sibling Registry so that there is a third party they can work through and link up with others who have conceived using the same donor.
It will take time for change to come about but one thing I’m sure of… it is coming.
Having Your Baby by Egg Donation by Ellen Sarasohn Glazer and Evalina Weidman Sterling. Second edition published June 2013 by Jessica Kingsley Publications