A very positive article about egg donation in the UK in The Guardian Family Section this weekend made me smile, but it also made me worry about where the item might end up. Would it be OK, for instance, for it to appear as part of a chapter in a GCSE textbook on religion and morality? This is exactly what has happened to a DC Network member family who allowed themselves to appear in an article in a reputable national newspaper six years ago. *Karen, as I will call her, was emailed by a former pupil of hers who is now a teacher herself, to say that she had come across a photo of Karen, her husband Tim and daughter Milly in a book that was being used as part of the religious education course at the school where she was teaching. Karen and Tim were devastated. They had agreed to the article because they thought that it would be a one-day wonder…tomorrow’s chip paper, but had not counted on it being frozen in time by appearing in a text book, particularly with accompanying questions about the moral choices they had made. They were concerned not only for Milly but also for other children conceived by egg or sperm donation who might come across the book as part of their school-work and be upset by the questions that seemed to be being raised about their existence.
Karen contacted the newspaper which indicated that the family should have been asked at the time of the article if they agreed to syndication. They were not asked and neither has anyone I have ever known who has contributed to newsprint articles, including Walter and me. Apparently the copyright belongs to the journalist and the photographer who are free to sell them on to anyone they like…if they have permission to do so. The paper has now agreed not to share the article with anyone else, but it is really six years too late.
Media lawyers have told Karen and Tim that they do not have a legal leg to stand on but luckily the publishers and the author of the textbook item have responded to Karen’s approach with an integrity rarely seen in a usually very defensive world. Apologies have been given for causing distress and the publisher has acknowledged that they could have been more pro-active about making sure that the newspaper had obtained the family’s permission for their story to be used. Not only this, but they have offered to re-write the pages concerned, removing any references to the family and giving Karen and Tim final approval of the changes. As Karen said to me, “What an opportunity for DC Network to get something into a school textbook that could provide up to date information and a clear context for the discussion of donor conception.” A silver lining indeed.
Since the panel of donor conceived young people at the DCN national conference talked about how little their school friends and teachers seemed to know about donor conception, DCN has been planning a project to improve the information available to schools so as to give them a clear framework for talking about this method of family building. Getting something on the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum is important, providing materials for children and parents to take into school is another avenue, but working with publishers of educational materials is an obvious way forward and here is a perfect opportunity to start doing that.
In the meantime let’s hope not too many donor conceived fifteen and sixteen year olds have been upset by coming across this item in their textbooks. It so depends on the individual teacher how this sort of topic is approached. And here’s to improving and adding to the next generation of school books addressing this subject.
DC Network will of course be learning from this tale. Everyone who takes part in newspaper or magazine articles will be made aware of the potential for syndication and the importance of denying permission if that is what they want.
Do have a look at the original Guardian article. It’s really very good. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/13/i-didnt-know-how-much-i-wanted-a-baby-till-it-was-almost-too-late
*All names have been changed.