Article and Responses to an Official’s Ideas on Donor Conception

By admin on July 19, 2011

This article was written by the former Deputy Minister of Health in BC. His comment below, that donor offspring who are curious about, and seek to find their genetic relatives are committing, “an act of selfishness and betrayal” is astounding to me, given the amount of influence he had at his former position. Ok, maybe he doesn’t understand donor conception, but as Minister, didn’t he learn anything from the world of adoption? Ideas like this can only harm families, as donor offspring who do become curious, will feel that they are betraying their parents if they wish to learn more about their genetic, ancestral and medical backgrounds.

The research we just published on 751 offspring has been sent to him, with hopes of him better understanding how donor conception can affect the lives of real people. I also invite Mr.  McFarlane to visit the Donor Sibling Registry website, where we have  quite a few articles, educational materials, research materials and donor family’s testimonials.

Mr. McFarlane’s Original Article:

Here is DSR member Emily’s response:

Dear Mr. McFarlane,

I have read your article in the Times Colonist regarding the recent ruling on
donor conceived children’s right to have identifying information about their
donors. I appreciate your concern for the future of the supply of sperm, the
fertility industry and the welfare of families created with donor gametes, and I
hope you will consider the following aspects of your argument:

You mention that focussing on the importance of genes risks reinforcing the
notion of foetal rights and opposition to abortion rights: this seems like a
crude leap to me. Aren’t the most strident proponents of foetal rights those
who believe that the foetus has a human existence or a soul, in a spiritual
sense. They will not be swayed by any empirical evidence, I don’t believe…

Discourage new donors: you suggest that the abolition of anonymity will reduce
the number of donors, but in fact the evidence from the countries where this has
happened does not support you: yes, the number of young students who need the
cash is much lower if they have to face the implications at some later stage in
life, but a different type of donor exists, older men who have experience of
infertility & parenthood and are willing to help others facing the same

Those centres in the UK, where anonymity was abolished in 2005 (and payment has
never been allowed) which have managed to recruit good numbers of donors under
the new rules report that many of these men even turn down the payment of their
fares and loss of earnings, the sense of helping others is reward enough. The
difference is that they need to provide counselling and support to all
applicants to ensure they understand the long term implications of their
donation, and many centres are too medically focussed to take this on.

You mention a fear that instead of anonymous benefactors, we would only get
individuals desperate for money, but the evidence points to the contrary: there
are plenty of mature and responsible men who volunteer to donate, when
approached in the right way, and these men have no fear of the ‘knock on the
door’ in 18 years’ time because they have nothing to hide, they donated proudly,
openly and responsibly.

You mention that children’s rights should not trump the rights of parents and
donors, but you forget that the children were not party to any agreement, and
yet it is they who have to live a whole lifetime with the consequences of
gamete donation. They are only children for a while, and many of the adults are
telling us what it’s like, and we should be hearing them and taking account, and
their powerless position in the initial process certainly means that we should
be putting their rights at the forefront when devising the policy that governs

I hope that you can consider these views: the world of fertility treatment is
changing and it needs to become more accountable to the people involved, for
whom it is much more than just a medical procedure.

With my regards,

Emily Engel

Then, the Author’s Two replies (with his permission):

The point about abortion is that if genetics are as important a feature of personal identity as you suggest, then a fetus meets that test – it has DNA.

Beyond that, the idea that genetics helps define identity is (in my view) mistaken. DNA was unknown when I grew up, and no-one felt less clear about who they were. The difference between us comes down to this: You believe that notions like parenthood and personal identity have something to do with bio-chemistry. I believe they have to do with family, love and caring. I imagine it takes a fair bit of courage for a man who cannot father a child, to agree to his wife being impregnated with another man’s sperm. The child conceived in that manner is all the more his, and no other man’s, because of his self-sacrifice. For that child, later in life, to go looking for the biological “father”, is – in my view, an act of selfishness and betrayal.
Best wishes, LM

The point about fetal rights is that people who oppose abortion tend to do so (this is a broad generalisation) because they associate personhood with biological features: show that the fetus has arms, legs etc., and you’ve proved it is a person. Abortion supporters tend to look for social and behavioural characteristics before they confer personhood. Arguably, proponents of the rights of AI children to know their biological parents rely on biological definitions of terms like “parent”, father” and so on. I believe those notions are only a tiny part of real parenthood.
I agree that children aren’t party to agreements their parents have made. They are, however, beneficiaries. More than that, if their parents loved and cherished them – as any parent should – it is a betrayal of that love to go looking for a “real” father.
Regards,  LM

Now, here is a response from a DSR mom that I hope Mr. McFarlane will have the opportunity to read:

I read Mr. McFarlane’s op-ed with interest, as I read all the postings on this
site with interest. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree. Mostly I’ve
found that my thinking has evolved on the whole topic of donor anonymity. I did
think that the abortion rights segue was kind of dumb, but other than that, I
thought that his opinion is probably pretty prevalent in most circles. And I
thought that because many of his opinions are pretty close to what mine used to
be before I became a part of this community (or what they might have been if I’d
given any serious thought to the question of donor anonymity).

And isn’t that how it so often is… you don’t really get it until you walk in
someone else’s shoes. I’m pretty new to this community. My donor conceived son
is just two and a half years old. If you’d asked me five years ago what I
thought about anonymous donors, I’d probably have answered something along the
lines of “so what.” I’d have said that family is the parent(s) who raises you.
I’d have said that making a deposit in a cup over a dirty magazine should be
explanation enough for any child as to why the man who gave his biology is not
family. I might have also empathized more with the college student who didn’t
want to throw some giant unknown into his future by committing to release his
identity to any biological offspring.

But then just over three years ago when I embarked on this journey, I was forced
into a different mindset. I was forced to think about the most important person
of all – the child I would be mothering. I was forced to imagine how he might
one day view things. And without having read a single article on the topic, I
came to the firm conclusion that I needed to give him the possibility and the
right to know as much as possible – and that meant I had to choose a donor who
consented to release his identity.

I know that disagreements will continue. People have different views, different
experiences and different motivations. But it’s hard to imagine that the tide
won’t keep pushing toward discouraging or ending donor anonymity. It’s hard to
imagine that courts won’t side more and more with those who didn’t have a voice
when this all started – the DC kids and adults. It’s hard to imagine that as
more parents embark on the journey of donor conception, they won’t listen to the
statistics and the overwhelming empirical evidence that their kids may one day
want to know about their biology – and that these new parents won’t demand more
and more open donors. It’s hard to imagine that as more stories are told, that
public opinion won’t evolve as my opinion has evolved.

I guess that’s it… just thought I’d add my two cents!