Respect is the key to getting others to listen to hard messages around donor conception

Fresh back from a week in the stormy rather than sunny Algarve, I dived into helping on the DC Network stand at the Fertility Show and within minutes was, as usual, overwhelmed by the crass commercialisation of the baby-making industry and the vital role DCN has in being a haven from a world where dollars rule and donor conceived children are commodities rather than people.  Along with correcting misinformation about the availability of egg donors in the UK, we spent a lot of time helping would-be recipients of donated eggs and sperm take the longer view of any child they might conceive.  In the general world of people wishing to become parents, those requiring donated gametes need to be able to think about something that no-one else, not even those using straight IVF need to do, and that is what their children might think and feel about the way they were conceived as they grow up.  It is almost impossible for anyone to put themselves in that position – particularly when the possibility of even being pregnant still feels so far away – but the need comes because the decisions made by would-be parents will (to a greater or lesser extent) have an impact on their children many years hence.  Thus, we put the hard questions.  If you choose egg donation in Spain because, as one woman explained to me, she looks Spanish and speaks the language, how are you going to explain to your child down the line that there is only the very remotest chance (through DNA testing) that they will ever be able to know who their donor is and that they can only know the woman’s height, eye colour and blood group (not even if she actually is Spanish) but that if you had had treatment in the UK you could have had lots more information and they could choose to contact they donor at 18 if they wanted to do so.  One route closes doors and the other leaves them open.  Conveyed kindly and supportively this information opens many peoples eyes to a scenario they have never been presented with before and at the very least leaves them with lots more to think about.

Being respectful. gentle and supportive to people whilst presenting them with information they may find difficult to hear is something DC Network prides itself on.  On catching up with several people who had been present at the Progress Educational Trust’s Ten Years Since the End of Donor Anonymity event earlier in the week, it sounds as if the donor conceived adult who spoke had not learned that the way to get others to take you seriously and listen to the hard things you have to say, is by respecting them and understanding something of their point of view.  An aggressive style of presenting, contempt for the regulator and researchers in the field and downright rudeness to other panellists made it easy for those listening to dismiss the perspective of donor conceived adults who do feel that they have lost out badly as lunatic fringe, rather than people with an important message to convey.  What a wasted opportunity with such a captive audience.

In January I will be speaking to the British Fertility Society about Long-term Outcomes for Donor Conceived Adults.  I am of course not the right person to be doing this.  It should be someone who has been donor conceived but I suspect I have been asked because they know that I will not have the very polarised views and intimidating style that unfortunately many people have come to associate with donor conceived adults who are active on the internet.  I won’t let them off the hook of course but I will be presenting a much more mixed picture.  If only more donor conceived people with a broader range of views would make their feelings known publicly, but I know from talking with many that a. they don’t feel the need as most are comfortable with who they are and b. they fear becoming a target for those DC adults who are strongly  against donor conception.  How sad is that.


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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58 Responses to Respect is the key to getting others to listen to hard messages around donor conception

  1. Wish I’d been able to be there on the night but unfortunately I’m in skint student mode now. I’ve only had the chance to find out via the Progress Storify and other people’s comments. It would be great to hear a podcast of the whole thing.

    I speak as a chronic avoider of confrontational situations, here. Anger may be unpalatable but this kind of comment feels like a tone argument – if you can ignore the way it’s delivered there’s still an important point to be heard. (This is not a criticism of your post.) To me it reflects that people have been hurt by their experience of being DC and/or the way it was disclosed to them, or the way they have been treated since. You don’t really get to the other side of the anger IMO until you’re prepared to hear it and respect where it’s coming from. Donor conception is not going to stop anytime soon, and people who think it’s unacceptable are not going to stop saying so. If people feel betrayed, used and hurt, why should they be nice about it? That doesn’t make it OK to ignore their point of view.

    I don’t think any of us who have been active in any area of donor conception (or public life in general) either as an employee of an organisation, or an activist in other ways, are particularly representative of the ‘normal’ population, in the same way that an MP or party activist isn’t either. We go out of our way because we care about this subject, from whatever perspective we have, and that immediately sets us apart from the majority of the population, who don’t care enough, don’t want to think about it, or are indifferent.

  2. oliviasview says:

    Thanks for your comment Christabel. I understand from Sandy Starr at PET that a podcast MAY be available. They are currently working on seeing whether the recording makes sense, given the ‘liveliness’ of the occasion.

    I think it is the role of therapists and counsellors to listen to and understand where anger is coming from. One might also hope that ones own nearest and dearest could do that too (my husband is very used to hearing me rant and letting it slide off his back). But I think if you are in a public arena and needing to convince others that your perspective is a valid one, then you need to be a grown-up and behave well. Being a bit of a natural hot-head myself I have learned this lesson only too well. I DO care but I have (mostly) learned to temper my remarks and found that in doing so I am much better able to win people over to my perspective. DC Network asks would-be-parents to put themselves in the shoes of their potential children. If DC adults were able to see the world just a little from the point of view of parents then there would be a much greater chance of parents being able to hear what they have to say.

  3. gsmwc02 says:

    I definitely believe we need more donor conceived kids speaking about their experiences. Unfortunately the only ones who are speaking out are the ones who have negative feelings about it. I say unfortunate not because they are speaking out but because there isn’t a diversity of experiences current and future donor conceived kids and parents can learn from. You are so right about how the ones who are speaking out so strongly against it tend to be so overly aggressive that they likely scare away any DC person who has a different opinion than theirs. That is where they are doing a disservice to their community.

  4. sandra says:

    I was at the PET talk.

    I am a parent of donor-conceived children.

    First of all, the woman you are referring to has a name: Jo Rose. Jo (according to the event blurb) has a PhD on the subject of donor conception, and fought to have the anonymity of donors lifted in 2005. She has an informed view on the subject of her own conception and of the subject generally.

    Yes, she was angry. But I still managed to take her seriously and listen to the ‘hard’ things she had to say. Actually, I agree with her point of view which seemed to have at it’s heart the view that donor conceived people do not have a public voice (or are not allowed a voice, or are not helped to find a voice) and do not have rights equivalent to others in similar situations (e.g. adoptees). I think the very fact that this was the first meeting of this kind I have been to in which donor conceived people were fully present as part of a panel and in the audience asking questions, is testament to that – normally, at such events, people who aren’t donor conceived pontificate about people who are.

    It’s true, Jo got worked up, but she was angry. I’d probably be angry in her situation. And in fact, a lot of the audience were sympathetic to her views, and backed up her comments in the questions: several queried, for example, Susan Golombok’s methodology, supported the idea of donor conception being noted on birth certificates, and were against UK clinics working with overseas clinics that support anonymous donor conception. These audience members were able to separate Jo’s tone from her message, and it made for a very interesting discussion.

    I certainly don’t feel that it is up to us (parents of donor conceived people/clinicians/academics) to tell Jo (a donor conceived person) how to conduct herself in public or how she should feel about her conception. The suffragettes tied themselves to railings and threw themselves in front of horses – and they were right to do so, because it was the only way to get themselves heard. Maybe that’s how Jo Rose feels. Maybe you don’t like the way she conducts herself, or disagree with her approach, or feel that it is not properly grown up. But that doesn’t mean she comes across to everyone (anyone?) as part of a ‘lunatic fringe’ – and if she does, maybe that is their problem, not hers?

    The very fact that you have been asked to speak at the British Fertility Society about Long Term Outcomes for Donor Conceived Adults is surely indicative of why some donor conceived people may feel they need to shout to get themselves heard. Imagine a man rocking up to a business conference to explain why women don’t get ahead at work. However well meaning his presentation, wouldn’t you think: “Come on, don’t infantalise women, let them speak for themselves”. And wouldn’t you think the conference organisers were sexist and lazy if they couldn’t be bothered find a woman to deliver that talk? Wouldn’t it give the impression that they felt women weren’t up to the job? Wouldn’t it make you, as a woman, want to stand up at their conference and SHOUT TO BE HEARD? Think how progressive and helpful to the cause of donor conceived peoples rights if you were to decline the invitation, and instead offer to work with the British Fertility Society to find someone who is donor conceived to speak in your place.

    • Progress ran a series of talks in 2012-13 looking at dc parents, donors and dc adults – two dc adults spoke at that talk. (One parent and one donor at the other talks.) More here:

      But Progress is an educational organisation and it’s not their job to represent or promote any particular view. I’m not sure if dc people are involved with the HFEA in a formal way and if not maybe a way forward would be to set up a representative group, as DC network has. (The NGDT is not there to represent donors incidentally – they exist to recruit donors. But because donors are involved as trustees we’re represented that way and have a say – it really helps.)

      • sandra says:

        – One of Jo Rose’s complaints was that the DC people are NOT represented within the HFEA. There was a rather heated exchange about it – between Jo Rose and the woman from the HFEA.

        -PET has indeed run a series of talks over the years on this subject: I’ve been to all of them and they have been excellent. But what made this particular meeting unusual was the number of donor conceived adults in the audience who spoke out, including a number who were critical of current practices. It made the meeting far more interesting, and was certainly unusual enough for others who attended with me to note it.

        -It’s commendable that the DCN have been working to get more donor conceived adults involved in the organisation. But I believe that, for a number of reasons, this is a relatively recent phenomenon (i.e. within the last five years). Things may be changing, but they are changing slowly, and it seems to me that donor conceived people (in general, I’m not pin-pointing the DCN) are only beginning to get their voices heard.

  5. oliviasview says:

    Fair enough Sandra. Good to hear from someone who was there. I could not be there but the reports I had were from five or six people so not just one person’s view. I am well aware of the important role that Jo played in the ending donor anonymity in the UK and give her full credit, with Liberty, for taking that case. Just to say that I have heard donor conceived adults speak at PET events before. They were two. a man and a woman, at one of these last year.
    I had certainly considered something along the lines of your last suggestion but it wouldn’t be someone like Jo that I would ask to take my place. Strong arguments are fine, rudeness is not.

  6. sandra says:

    I think what else made the event unusual was Jo Rose’s anger. I can see the downside of that anger, and I agree it is perhaps not a very useful style for debate. BUT it was extremely useful to hear her point of view, and hear that point of view, echoed in a less aggressive form, in the audience’s responses. I don’t think we hear what she has to say very often at events like these – very rarely, perhaps never – including at the former PET events I’ve been to. These events tend to feature donor conceived people who seem far more comfortable with their origins (hopefully that’s because they are in the majority). I found it a relief to hear someone shout out about the need for fair treatment and the rights of the child because these are issues about justice and equal rights which deserve proper debate and respect. It was extremely helpful to hear a counter-balance to the kids are alright narrative (even though the kids I know are alright!). I think Jo Rose needs to be heard, even if that means that we as an audience have to take time to navigate her anger.

    • Sandra, thank you so much for sharing your deeply thoughtful insight. Some of us in the ‘donor’ conceived community have been trying to say exactly this for years. I hope the tide is finally starting to turn.

      • gsmwc02 says:

        No one is going to listen to someone who is ranting and raving like a lunatic. It’s true that some people aren’t going to listen to something they don’t believe in no matter what. But proof who are open minded and will listen are more likely to do so if the person they are listening to is polite and not ranting.

  7. oliviasview says:

    Helpful comments Sandra. Thank you. You may be interested to know that I have approached a DC adult to take my place at the BFS conference. She is interested and we will talk this week.

  8. Here is another perspective from a person who attended this event:
    “Donor conception: Yes we can, but maybe we shouldn’t
    On the 3rd November we attended in London the conference “10 years since the end of donor anonymity: have we got it right?””
    Read more:

  9. Hi Olivia,

    I have read your ‘review’ on the conference that took place last Tuesday. Your remarks (on an event you didn’t acutely attend) are a bit harsh and unfair.

    In the title of your blog you ask for respect, but you are disrespectful towards a donor conceived. I don’t know if it is because you personally don’t like what she saying, you don’t like her presenting style or maybe there is something more to it. She didn’t speak in the name of all donor conceived: she told us the story of her friend, then her story and she made good valid points about the current policy and industry.

    Is not often that donor conceived who have critical views are invited to come speak at conferences or debates that are linked to the industry. You are forgetting that the only person at that table addressing the core issue on donor conception does it out of act of defending the human rights of those who are conceived that way. You know: the ones who (potentially) endure the biggest and direct implications of it. So sorry, if she got emotional about it.

    Yes, you are not the person to speak about Long-term Outcomes for Donor Conceived Adults of the BFS. I hope find a donor conceived that wants to speak. Maybe you could consider allowing two donor conceived to speak. It would bring a balance.

    But it is totally unfair stating that donor conceived who have a positive/mixed picture to present, are reluctant to speak publicly because they fear they will be targeted by other DC. There are as many different opinions as there are people walking around on this earth.

    In the end we should listen to our/the children, allowing all of them to speak and try to understand what they are saying. Even if you personally don’t like or agree on what some of them are telling.

    Closing your ears, means closing your heart. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the ability to share their views.

    Only listening will make it possible to find ways so that we can avoid the same suffering being inflected on other generations of children. We (You) owe them that much.

    Kind regards,

    • gsmwc02 says:


      Karen has been disrespectful to Olivia many times on this blog and other blogs. It’s great that so many are speaking up but people like Karen, Alana Newman, Damian Adams and others in the Donor Conceived community are doing the community a disservice by demonizing parents rather than try to work together with parents in addition to not being completely honest about their own experiences.

  10. oliviasview says:

    Hi Steph
    Sorry to have upset you. This was not a ‘review’ of the PET event. I was not there so could not review it. Simply a comment on reports that I had from a number of people who were present. And to illustrate my main point below, they were all talking about HOW Jo Rose expressed herself not the messages she may have wanted to convey. They were lost.

    I do not want to suppress anyone’s views or feelings at all. They are all absolutely valid. I was simply expressing sadness that Jo spoke so aggressively that it is likely that many people in the audience were alienated by her style and her rudeness to other panellists. People tend to stop listening or being able to respond when they are being intimidated. Closing your ears certainly does mean closing your heart. My ears are not closed because I recognise, understand and even support many of Jo’s arguments but others who have not been exposed to these arguments before are unlikely to be persuaded by someone who rants and raves. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion but I don’t see why donor conceived people should be in a privileged position of not having to stick to the rules of common courtesy when it comes to expressing their opinion.
    I was not being unfair when I said that other donor conceived people are afraid to post for fear of being targeted. I have seen it happen and I have heard DC adults speaking about their fears. They prefer a quiet life and not to be told that they are ‘too young to know their own minds’ or ‘they are only saying they are fine in order to protect their parents’.
    I have found a donor conceived adult to speak at the BFS event, although I still have to check this out with the organisation. This person was ‘told’ late and has strong views on that and many other things but she knows how to speak in a way that will engage her audience and help them to really think about their practices.
    Of course we should listen to the children/young people/adults. But some must learn that if they want to influence the future they need to express themselves in ways that those who influence policy and practice can hear them. Those who spoke at the recent Belgian conference knew how to do that and were much more powerful as a result.

    • Hi Olivia,
      I am not upset, just a bit troubled by the way you painted a picture of the evening and of a donor conceived. It creates distances and segments, and that is not good (for no one).

      For me (and I also asked around that evening with other members of the audience) the presentation Jo gave was one from the heart.

      It is bit sad that you keep on saying ‘that is not the right way to get your message out’ and all the adjectives you supplied to visualize an event you didn’t attend. The underlining message that I am getting from your blog is condescending: you are saying that she misbehaved and she should present herself in another way. And that message is not ok for you to give.

      This is also a (painfull) issue with donor conception: often we are told how to deal with it, terms are invented and forced up on us so we can name things, we can not be emotional about it, and when presenting ourselves we should behave. Let’s give at least the freedom to DC to express themselves, and understand that when emotions get the better of them, it is due to the pain and suffering the donor conception inflicted on them. And is the case with Jo.

      I was at the symposium in Gent, Belgium. I spoke there and yes, I could keep myself together. But the fact is that when I attend such events: I am boiling on the inside. On the one hand you deal with your personal stuff about the donor conception and all the implications it has had, but you also carry the stories of the other DC, parents and donors with you. On the other hand you must sit quietly listening to the stuff they are saying about donor conceived. Most of time their research forget to include all the aspects of the reality surrounding donor conception. At that symposium in Gent we were not invited (nobody bothered, not even to inform us) When I found out, I subscribed. I only attended 1 day of the event but the organizers insisted/oblidged me that I had to pay full entree fee for two days. This is just one of the examples how donor conceived get treated. You get silenced, even if you are ‘well behaved’ and you must be humble when you get a seat at the table. It is patronizing.

      I am sorry to read that there are DC who feel restricted by DC who have other views or stories to tell. I expierence the opposite in my country where DC are emotionally blackmailed by sibings, parents of other DC to keep their critical views or not so positives stories to themselves. Both situations are sad, and yet, it shouldn’t be this way.

      It should be about listening, comprehending, but also being able to actually tell what is on your mind and heart. The emotions are package surrounding the core stuff, but you shouldn’t dismiss it because the wrapping material is to your dislike.

      The point that Jo tried to make is that DC need a bigger voice and an equal seat/place at the table when comes to policy. Till this day it is (the) missing link in all of this (and it adds to the pain).

      There no use in creating opposite sides, you should focus on common grounds and build from there.


      • sandra says:

        The point is not that donors now as they exist don’t want to be parents, but that DONOR CONCEPTION as a system is set up on the basis that biological relatedness doesn’t matter – despite the fact that it matters elsewhere in our society.

      • oliviasview says:

        Hi Steph
        I SO agree about focusing on common ground and not creating opposite sides. Many apologies if you feel I have been condescending. Unfortunately I, and other parents, have been on the receiving end of contemptuous or condescending remarks from those donor conceived adults who would like donor conception to be outlawed. I am not trying to get my own back but I supposed can’t help being influenced by this history.
        We too were shocked that no donor conceived adults or parents were invited to the Ghent meeting. We learned of the conference via BioNews in this country and told our colleagues in the parent organisations in Germany and Belgium. I am very sorry about the way you were treated with regard to fees, but I wonder if anyone who could only attend one day would have been charged the full fee? It may not be discrimination against you as a DC person. As I said previously, I found what you and another DC adult who spoke to be enormously powerful. It changed the dynamic of the days so I hope you thought it worthwhile being there.
        I think an e

      • gsmwc02 says:


        I didn’t get the impression at all from Olivia’s piece. What I gathered is that Olivia has no issue with the message but is just raising the point that how a message is delivered can impact how a message is received by an audience. That is very important if the goal is to establish common ground in which mutual respect needs to be present.

      • Liz says:

        “I am boiling on the inside.”

        “Let’s give at least the freedom to DC to express themselves, and understand that when emotions get the better of them, it is due to the pain and suffering the donor conception inflicted on them.”

        It is not appropriate for adults to ask conference participants to accept “boiling emotions” in a professional, public situation.

        Why would you expect people to accept the expression of anger in a academic, professional, and public situation?

        I’m getting the impression that some people think they are entitled to this behaviour? At a public conference?

        “I only attended 1 day of the event but the organizers insisted/oblidged me that I had to pay full entree fee for two days. This is just one of the examples how donor conceived get treated.”

        Why would you expect to get a refund? I pay full $$ for conferences all the time when I cannot attend the full event. Many people rarely arrive for the entire conference. I have never expected to get $$ refunded because I flew in late to a conference. Asking to adjust the payment for 1 person creates more work for busy organizers.

  11. Sandra says:

    Here is the bio news summary of the conference (which also summarises Jo roses points).

  12. Troubled1 says:

    As someone who was there, I am surprised to hear the strength of reaction against Jo Rose: without a doubt, she is angry, and with good reason. Surely we can be adult enough to hear someone express strong feelings without getting uncomfortable and writing them off as rude, ranting and raving,contemptuous, lunatic fringe etc.

    You mention the need for respect for those who disagree with us… Any grown up, not just counsellors and therapists, should be able to make allowances for people who are upset, hurt or angry, when they are trying to explain this to the people who may have a role in their situation. Ms.Rose was brave and lucid and many people in the audience evidently understood what she was saying and voiced their support – clearly they were not as easily put off by her difficult message as your informants.

    I hope the DCN make an equal effort to turn itself into a haven for donor conceived adults, who after all have the greatest entitlement to be heard when considering how the world of donor conception is managed. If some of those voices are emotive or impassioned, we should take all the more care to hear their message. From what I can make out, Jo Rose’s proposals are fully in accordance with the principles of the DCN.

    • oliviasview says:

      Thank you Troubled1 for your contribution. DC Network now has quite a few donor conceived adults as members. They are important and DCN listens to them, but none feel as Jo Rose does that, “it is in the best interests of a child that it can raised by its biological parents or family. Donor conception generates a direct conflict with this specific interest because it deliberately withholds the child from being raised by both of its biological parents as well denying it the possibility to built a meaningful relationship with them.”
      Donors do not intend to be parents and do not see themselves as such. Recipients of donated gametes want and intend to be parents. They are the people that primary attachments are formed with. It is very understandable that donor conceived people may wish to know more about, and potentially know as people, the person or persons who contributed to their being alive but it is rare in my experience for a donor conceived person who has been raised in a loving and open family to see their donor as a parent. As far as I can tell, Jo Rose and some others of the same view, would argue that ‘real’ parents are always biological. I would argue that ‘real’ parents are the people you form loving and close attachments to, so based on relationships not biology. It’s a different world view.
      I have had people who have posted responses on previous blogs put the case for a person to be able to form relationships with both bio and ‘social’ parents equally. This happens sometimes in cases of family donation, BUT the donor is never recognised as a parent, always an uncle, aunt or cousin, although their contribution of DNA is known about by all. If all donors had to be known and had equal status as parents of children then ‘official’ donation would come to an end…but I suspect that is what JR wants. It would of course continue unofficially and presumably unregulated. That is why I am an ethical pragmatist. If donation is going to happen, let’s do it the best way possible and practically that it unlikely to include donors becoming parents.

    • Liz says:

      “Any grown up, not just counsellors and therapists, should be able to make allowances for people who are upset, hurt or angry, when they are trying to explain this to the people who may have a role in their situation.”

      I was not at the meeting and do not have an opinion about it.

      Generally speaking, venting anger is rarely constructive. & It’s not appropriate to vent anger at academics, or others, who have no relationship to that individual’s conception.

      • Tom Ellis says:

        I was at the meeting, and I’m sorry that Olivia has given you the impression that Jo was “venting anger”. That’s not what happened at all. Jo spoke very movingly and passionately about an issue that has hurt her to the core of her being. I think many people came away from the event with a deeper understanding of how it feels to be donor conceived.

        • oliviasview says:

          I have removed my previous response as many reading this blog will not know your history Tom. All opinions on Jo’s presentation welcome, but it is likely that you would support both her content and style given your own similar story and feelings. Can you not see that what felt like passion to you may have come over as aggression and intimidation to others. As Liz says, public anger is rarely constructive.

          • Tom Ellis says:

            Your reference to my “history” is a bit vague, Olivia, and possibly misleading. Could you please clarify what you mean? Are you talking about my history of speaking out against the practice of donor conception?

        • gsmwc02 says:

          Do you feel that way because you agree with her or because it was moving? I wouldn’t discount the bias you may have on your end influencing your opinion on the topic.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      My question to Jo Rose would be what was she looking to accomplish was it to try to bring about progress or just rant? Because if it’s the former ranting is not going to bring about any progress and connect with people who can join her to bring about change,

  13. Tom Ellis says:

    Interesting, Olivia, that you are comfortable of accusing Jo Rose of “aggression”, “contempt” and “rudeness” when you weren’t even at the event. I wonder why you’d feel comfortable doing that. Oh yes, this line gives it away: “If only more donor conceived people with a broader range of views would make their feelings known publicly”. So it’s not Jo Rose’s manner that you really object to. It’s that you simply don’t like what she has to say. If Jo spoke with the same passion and emotion in favour of donor conception you’d be the last person to criticise her for that.

    • oliviasview says:

      To be honest Tom I think I would feel uncomfortable with anyone speaking about anything with a similar lack of respect to fellow panellists. You are right, I don’t agree with everything Jo has to say, but I would defend to the death her right to say it…respectfully.

  14. sandra says:

    The quote from Jo Rose you have above does not mean that biological parents are necessarily the best parents (i.e. the best at parenting). Nor does it mean that donor conceived children existing now and having been raised in happy families would be better off moving in with their biological parents (if they are lucky enough to track him or her down).

    It means that, as a starting point, it is generally assumed in our society that children are best off with their biological parents, wherever possible. That’s presumably why adoption is now seen as a last resort, and all efforts are made to have open adoptions that allow children to maintain a relationship with the biological parents (a set up which acknowledges that even if those biological parents are rubbish at parenting, the very fact that they are the child’s biological parent has weight). In adoption, severing this connection is seen as a last resort, a matter of child protection. The social parents step in where the biological parents fail. Often they do a brilliant job, a far better job than the biological parents could ever have done and the children would not swap them for a million worlds. But the point is, the biological parents get a whack at it first. Severance is the final option.

    Jo Rose is right: donor conception cuts this link, and says that for donor conceived children, biological relatedness doesn’t matter (the irony being obvious, of course, when you look those of us DC parents desperate to have a biologically related child). Why should children conceived with donor gametes be different from any other child? Why should they be treated as a different category of child? And this is a perfectly valid point. And it’s perfectly possible to agree with this point without it being a criticism of the social parents of existing donor conceived children. It’s perfectly possible to believe this AND come from a happy family and adore your social father and mother and think they are the best. It’s even perfectly possible to believe this and be the parent of donor conceived children.

    I think it is extremely dangerous to suggest as you have done, that only those who come from unhappy DC families think biological parents matter (or are ‘real’ parents – and to be honest, I think here you have confused the argument by muddling up the two aspects of social and biological parenting). If you spread that kind of view, you are making it very hard for anyone who loves their DC parents to speak out, because it will feel like a criticism of those parents. It happens in adoption all the time. It’s why my relative waited until her adoptive mother had died before contacting her biological mother. You don’t have to be an unhappy donor conceived person to think that biological parents matter, and that a system which is set up to sever the biological connection is unjust.

    As for the stuff about donors not wanting to be parents etc. Well, who knows what donors want. Maybe some donors DO want to be parents, but they haven’t found a partner and they think that donor conception is the closest they are ever going to get. What do we know? And anyway, the system is set up to not allow them to be parents. Everyone said that donors didn’t want their anonymity lifted, and yet look over there to the USA, where donors and siblings are matching up like ballyhoo on the donor sibling registry. For all those people, biological connections matter (and in fact Jo Rose talked about her friend Narelle who formed an extremely strong daughter/father bond with her donor just before her death). The point is not that donors now as they exist don’t want to be parents, but that DONOR CONCEPTION as a system is set up on the basis that biological relatedness doesn’t matter – despite the fact that it matters elsewhere in our society.

    I have loads to say about reforming thedonor conception system to take all this into account, my own version of ethical pragmatism. But I’ve got to go and work!

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Sandra
      You say, “I think it is extremely dangerous to suggest as you have done, that only those who come from unhappy DC families think biological parents matter”. One of my problems with this statement is the word ‘parents’. For me a parent is someone who is nurturing presence in a child’s life (or has been, in the case of a child who is adopted and then has ‘birth parents’ and ‘raising parents’.) Biological or genetic connections are more or less important to different people. Clearly for Jo Rose and Tom Ellis, who has also commented here, they are paramount. For others, they mean little. As none of us parents can ever know how our children are going to feel, I would of course advocate for identifiable donors every time. Leaving that door open for children/young people/adults is obviously the right thing to do. Listening to our children, whatever they say and however they feel, is obviously also right. Parents by donor conception need to understand and be able to balance the apparent paradox that genetics are both extremely important (their children may want/need to make the connections) and not important at all (in everyday family life). Here is my other problem – It is notable that the vast majority of donor conceived adults who believe that the practice of donor conception should be ended (as Jo and Tom do) are from an era when secrecy was advocated and parents not given any opportunity to work through their grief at their infertility or address issues of shame or stigma. This is likely to have left a mark on their families. Here is a blog post from Donated Generation in Australia. I have the greatest respect for this man’s views as he always expresses himself in measured tones and is able to see the perspective of others -
      Just a note, we do know how many donors feel. Research has shown that whilst many former donors would have been willing to be identifiable, very few indeed had any intention to be parents or are wanting that type of relationship now.

    • gsmwc02 says:


      IMO a lot of times DC people say they “love” their social parent(s) out of obligation rather than true love. Deep down they don’t love those parent(s) for legit reasons. In the case of Damian Adams he claims he “loves” his dad yet he is trying to legally erase him from ever having a relationship with him. Dr. Rose had to be severely impacted by her dad basically putting his infertility grief on her. That was inappropriate and must have made her feel awful. My point is that all of these stories are complex and honesty is the most powerful and effective way of these people connecting with outsiders. In the Adoption community there are a select few who are honest and those people have the best chance of connecting with outsiders. I’ve maybe read one or two people in the DC community who are outspoken and honest about their stories and why they feel the way they do.

      As for your point about Donors wanting to be parents, if they wanted to be parents of the child they could potentially conceive they would have entered a co-parenting agreement rather than donor conception agreement. Unlike in the past when non anonymous donation didn’t exist and we didnt know whether they would donate non anonymously co-parenting agreements do exist. It’s clear they have no interest in parenting. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t open to some type of relationship with the child but it’s clear they don’t have an interest in parenting that child.

    • Liz says:

      “it is generally assumed in our society that children are best off with their biological parents,”

      This premise is by no means a consensus. Many would and do contest that point. Arguments fall apart when the assumed premise is not accepted.

      Larger Point:

      (Not assuming what happened at this conference, as I was not present.)

      I am unsure how effective emotional appeals are for audiences more likely to be persuaded by analysis. (academics, managers, bureaucrats)

      The expression of contempt or anger — be it on the internet, or at a conference, or in a newspaper — is not constructive if the goal is to persuade those who start at a different premise.

      I am confident that the expression of moral superiority alienates audiences.

    • Donors who want to be parents are screened out. Particularly if they happen to be men who want to ‘spread their seed’ as the stereotype goes. You don’t become a parent by giving genetic material to someone else and then not being part of that child’s life. People who do feel strongly that the biological parent is the ‘real’ parent, for very obvious reasons, don’t become egg or sperm donors.

  15. sandra says:

    For the record, and as one of the few people commenting here who actually attended this event, I am happy to clear this up for you now:
    Jo Rose did not ‘rant’
    Nor did she appear as a member of the lunatic fringe.
    Nor did she invalidate her points by a crazed delivery.
    She was just angry and upset, yet managed to get her point across clearly and effectively.

    • Hear hear – the same impression goes for me

    • Liz says:

      “She was just angry and upset, yet managed to get her point across clearly and effectively.”

      Surprising to see this at a public talk.

      Multiple people have written that she expressed anger and upset. I am unclear if that anger was directed towards the audience or fellow panelists.

      In what context could the expression of anger be appropriate in this public talk?

      Did the other panelists or audience members express themselves with civility? Were multiple people expressing anger to each other? Were there personal accusations?

      What caused the breakdown in civil norms at the conference?

    • Dr Joan Rose says:

      Thank you Sandra. Olivia M is now personally selecting an offspring to represent us having put me down without even being there. Many adult donor offspring have either experienced or witnessed unduly critical, controlling interaction from Olive M of the donor conception network. We would like to raise awareness of this and reject her authority to represent or select individuals to represent us. Donor offspring have a range of views and feelings and must represent ourselves uncontrolled and uninhibited by the other stakeholder representatives.

      • oliviasview says:

        Ha, ha. Other donor conceived adults have minds of their own too you know Jo.

      • gsmwc02 says:

        Wow, with the way you just came off on here I truly believe you came off ranting in this forum being discussed. I’m sure you want to hear more people in your community that fall in line with your thinking. That fall in line with the thinking that people unable to have children should just adopt the children that you and others in your community refuse to adopt. You aren’t doing anyone in your community favors by encouraging the hate you spread.

  16. pol says:

    My impression is that the message being conveyed by J Rose is not one that is easy to hear?
    Is not her message that an injury is inflicted on persons who are INTENTIONALLY denied full knowledge of (and a lifelong relationship with) their biological parent/s and family?? Certainly there are adoptees/DC persons who claim to feel no loss (numb?) through this act of biological disconnection. Others (there are many adoption activists who speak a similar uncomfortable truth) are willing to say that a wrong has been done to them (and others) through what is commonly regarded as a benign act of ‘donation” as either as a provider of DNA or recipient.

    It ain’t that simple! The intentional creation of a human life in these circumstances is far more complicated than a medical procedure to ‘fix’ infertility or childlessness. Unquestionably non biologically related persons can provide excellent parenting BUT being loved is not the only requirement for a human child/adult to achieve wholeness.

    When a (DC) injury of this magnitude is one’s lived life experience, is it not reasonable to inform others? It may sensitize them to hidden injury felt by other DC persons or cause them to reconsider the creation of a human life through donor conception practices.

    Long may freedom of speech exist concerning donor conception!

  17. troubled1 says:

    Ok, I may not feel there was anything alarming in the passion shown by Jo Rose in the meeting on Tuesday, but frankly, some of this discussion is less than respectable or respectful.
    I just want to make the point that some of the opinions that Olivia ascribes to Dr.Rose were NOT expressed in the discussion on Tuesday. She was sensible to leave them out, and I respect her for that. I don’t feel that exposing them here was equally respectful – I’m sure there are things you’ve said in a passion that you would not appreciate being made public.
    And the bottom line is, I’m not the only one who would be outraged at the suggestion that I’d feel the same about any baby I’d taken home from the hospital. I wanted to bear and raise my own child, even if I know I could have made another baby my own with love and care.
    When you read about the ‘recognition’ that happens when mothers meet their children’s half-siblings, you have to accept that the genetic element is significant.
    We must learn to accept ALL donor conceived people’s feelings, whether they are in a majority or a minority, in order to learn how to promote the development of our donor conceived children into happy well adjusted adults.

  18. oliviasview says:

    “We must learn to accept ALL donor conceived people’s feelings, whether they are in a majority or a minority, in order to learn how to promote the development of our donor conceived children into happy well adjusted adults.”
    A good note to end on.
    We’ve had a good discussion here but I’m going to call a halt now. Any further posts will be deleted.

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