Should the child have the right to know the identity of the donor?
Since the early 1950s and escalating until today there has been an international discussion of whether or not to have donor anonymity.
The reason for this discussion is that it is possible that children who learn about their DI-origin will suffer from identity problems and a feeling of being betrayed if they are not able to find their genetic father and if the truth is kept secret. Some say that DI-children should be given this right, which is a right that adopted children already have. Others claim that this is a right according to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCC).
It is easy to understand these arguments, but unfortunately it is not so easy to realize in practise (as showed below). If we look deeper into the question it may also be less important to secure DI-children this right:
- DI-children have their mother as a genetic parent, which makes the situation regarding their identity different from that of adopted children. DI-children are fundamentally highly wanted while adopted children start their lives as unwanted or unplanned, which makes the two situations quite different.
- The UNCC, Art 7.: "The child shall have … the right to know … his or her parents." But the term "parents" has never been conclusively defined. The parents could be the social parents, the adoptive parents, the foster parents, two females, etc. Initially, the article was suggested by the delegation of Egypt as "The child ... belongs to his parents", and The Legislative History of the UN Children Convention also shows that it was meant to prevent situations like "Lebensborn" in Nazi Germany, kidnapping of children as seen in for instance Chile and Argentina. DI was never mentioned. So the question is still: Who are the parents? Is it always the genetic father and mother? What is best for the child’s welfare?
- A significant number of children are not genetically related to their social father. This number reaches 5-8% in Denmark (M. Mikkelsen 1992). In Britain, an examination of blood samples taken from school children and their parents, followed by a comparison of the blood types, showed that 1/3 of the children could not be related to their father (H.C.Rosenkvist, 1979). As early as 500 B.C., the Romans introduced the "Pater est" principle, implying that "the man who is married to the woman is the father of the child". It has always been a problem to determine paternity. This is also the reason why the term “parents” as laid down by the UNCC cannot apply solely to the genetic parents.
- Many surveys show that the recipients (especially the social fathers) do not want the child to have the opportunity of finding the genetic father (Snowden et al., 1993, Amuzu et al. 1999, Golombok et al. 1995 etc.). Recipients prefer anonymous donors. These surveys also show that few of the DI-children (0-14%) are actually told about their DI-origin, and this is mainly important to lesbian couples and singles where there is no obvious father.
- We do not know much about how DI-children feel and think. There is very little literature about this issue. One is from “The Australian Donor Conception Support Group” who have published a book "Let the offspring speak". It is interesting to read the testimonies from adult DI-children, who are usually of the opinion that anonymous DI should be forbidden. Many of the people describe traumatic lives with communication difficulties and problems of interpersonal relations with their (social) father. Later in life when they are told about their DI-origin, most of them are suddenly able to see why they have had such a traumatic life, and they now have an explanation to their problems, which are due to the “false” father etc. However, there is nothing special about this problem that might just as well be characteristic of other individuals. Other people can also have a traumatic life with communication difficulties and problems with interpersonal relations with their father. The only difference is that other people do not have this “explanation” (scapegoat) to their problems. Moreover, these DI-children, who plead injustice to their person, would not have existed at all had it not been for the anonymous donor. Their demand is thus self-contradictory. The alternative is not to exist. Anyone can have problems concerning not being born under optimum circumstances and with ideal parents. Nothing can be done about this. Many of the DI-offspring also express their problems with their life-lie (truth has been kept from them). At the other end of the scale with DI-offspring who have not experienced trauma or problems with their origins or (social) father, nor - indeed - with anonymity, only a few cases are known. Some of them do not even express curiosity about the donor. But the voice of the discontented few carries much more weight as it is regarded as being representative of all DI-children. Who represents the great, happy, (uninformed), silent majority?
Finally, the dilemma is that it is not possible to hire enough non-anonymous sperm donors to cover the demand. A survey among our donors in 1992 and 2002 illustrates this as 22% of the donors in 1992 and 12% in 2002 would continue if anonymity were not secured. Lower selection criteria or a higher payment to the donors could maybe compensate for this problem, but then we would move into other kinds of ethical problems.
In Sweden non-anonymity has been a reality since 1985 resulting in a reduction of approx. 85% in the former donor corps and a similar reduction in the number of new DI-children. The Swedes now resort to "Fertility Tourism" and the "Grey Market" and are forced to go abroad (mainly to Denmark).
For many years, more DI-pregnancies have been reported on Swedish patients treated in Denmark than on Swedish patients treated in Sweden.