Genetic Crossroads

The intersection of biotechnology, reproduction and society

Donor-Conceived Children in Search of their Biological Histories

Donor-conceived kids are growing up and speaking out.

A story in the current issue of Newsweek, "Donor-Conceived and Out of the Closet," is one of the first in an American news outlet to focus on children of anonymous sperm or egg donors who are searching for information about their biological parent.

Donor-conceived children - in some cases with the help of the families in which they've been raised - have been working for years to make the case that they, like adopted people in many jurisdictions, have a right to this information. As the Newsweek article points out, there is a certain amount of "hypocrisy inherent in an infertile couple's desire to have a biological child and yet deny that child's desire to know his or her biological roots."

In Canada and the UK, gamete donor anonymity and the rights of donor-conceived offspring have been widely discussed by policy makers, women's and children's advocates, documentary makers, and others. Those countries and a number of others have legislated for greater transparency, including the requirement that gamete donors cannot retain anonymity after any resulting children turn 18 years old.

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In the US, however, the issue is known mostly through The Kids Are All Right and several Oprah segments showing happy reunions (but, as one of the donor-conceived people profiled in Newsweek points out, not the anguish that precedes them). The Donor Sibling Registry, established by Wendy Kramer after her own son began voicing his desire to know about his sperm donor dad, has several tens of thousands of members. Many aspects of the US fertility industry have become controversial in recent years, but the concerns and rights of donor offspring remain decidedly low-profile.

Newsweek's coverage may help to change that. So may one of the donor-conceived people the article mentions. Olivia Pratten, a Toronto-based journalist, brought a class action lawsuit arguing that it's discriminatory to prevent children conceived with third-party gametes from obtaining the identities and medical histories of their biological parents. A decision from the Supreme Court of British Columbia is expected shortly.

Other intiatives include the Anonymous Us Project, founded by Alana S. to provide a "safety zone" in which donors, parents, adoptees and donor-conceived children can share their feelings and stories. Lindsay Greenwalt's Confessions of a Cryokid blog is another growing resource. The potent combination of DNA technology and social media is challenging old attitudes. Pratten is surely correct when she says, "I'm just the tip of the iceberg."

Marcy Darnovsky, Ph.D., is Associate Executive Director at the Center for Genetics and Society.

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