Telling Children about Their Conception by Gamete Donation

By BSc, MSc (embryologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 06/17/2016

Revealing the fact of donor conception to children has been a subject of debate for a long time, mainly because parents have plenty of doubts regarding what the reaction of their son or daughter will be, and therefore the psychological impact of it.

There are many opinions on this, with a 50-50 relation between the number of considerations in favor and the number of arguments against it. Whatever the final decision is, it should be taken into account that all parties involved should agree.

The truth is, the question on whether to tell or not to tell is the recipient parents' choice. Nonetheless, a number of clinicians, mental health professionals, and donor-conceived persons themselves have in recent years called for openness in donor conception. The following are the aspects that should be considered when deciding whether to disclose or not.

Considerations in favor of disclosure

In recent years, a trend in favor of disclosing it has begun to emerge, although there is still a broad international debate on this matter. The Ethics Committee of the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) considers that disclosure to the child not only of donor conception but also of the characteristics of the donor (if known) may be beneficial for the child.

Many arguments may be offered in favor of disclosure, being the following the most remarkable ones:

  • Not telling the child may violate his/her autonomy because of not knowing about his/her biological origins.
  • Understanding of his/her identity may be helpful for making better choices in later life.
  • It helps build a parent-child relationship based upon open and honest communication.
  • Not telling may end up creating life-long tensions between those who know and those who don't.
  • By knowing his/her genetic heritage, children have more accurate information in case potential health problems arise.
  • Informing the child about his/her origins will protect him/her against later inadvertent consanguinity.

A wide range of countries have already enacted laws or are considering it so that children can gain access to such information. For instance, Switzerland's constitution makes reference to every child's right to know about his/her biological lineage, including donor conception.

Other countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, New Zealand, and the State of Victoria, Australia require identifying information to be available upon request. Proponents also argue that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) provision regarding identity should include disclosure of donation as well.

Reasons for non-disclosure

Obviously, there is another group that is against disclosure to the child. Broadly speaking, those who would not recommend disclosure argue that telling the child about donor conception may subject him or her not only to a psychological turmoil, but also cloud the development of his social skills.

In this sense, the main concern this group shares is the following: what if the child, once he/she knows about his/her origins, wants to learn more about the donor but cannot? However, a number of studies have shown that children not informed do well developmentally too, that is, non-disclosure has not been harmful for them.

Another important aspect that rise many concerns among parents is that they are afraid that, if they tell their child of donor conception, he or she will reject one or both non-genetic parent or develop the so-called reactive attachment disorder (RAD).

Nevertheless, this fear should not arise because RAD or any other psychological issue can arise when no open communication with the child exists as well. The fact that there are secrets in the family can strain family relationships, and create long-term tensions, especially in the event of divorce or remarriage.

On the other hand, some parents do not wish to reveal the fact of donor conception just because they prefer to keep the matter of infertility private. This is especially common in certain communities in which the use of donor gametes or fertility treatments in general is still a taboo.

Many research projects have indicated that a significant majority of recipient parents do not plan to inform offspring about donor conception, even in cases where they have disclosed it to others. This trend is less common when donor eggs are used than in the case of sperm donation.

When and what to disclose

Deciding how much donor information is given to the child will depend not only on the parents' preferences, but also on the practices of ART programs, gamete, and embryo donation programs. Of course, the legal framework on gamete and embryo donation of each country is a key factor influencing it.

For example, in countries such as the United States, donor-conceived individuals find it easier to get identifying information, as in many cases the characteristics of the donor are available on the Internet. Some donors even create their own websites to state their willingness to meet the offspring.

In countries such as Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal, or the Czech Republic, anonymity is a requirement and therefore neither parents nor offspring can know about the donor except for general information such as hair and eye color, blood type, weight, height, etc.

Other countries like the United Kingdom ask donors to write a personal description and a goodwill message to the child born as a result from their donation. The purpose of this message is to let future offspring learn more about the donor as a person.

The big debate regarding the timing of disclosure has been that it may turn out to be disruptive if it is revealed in adolescence or later. Studies indicate, however, that people who learn the details of their conception as adults may feel frustration and mistrust toward their parents.

Proponents of disclosure in adolescence or earlier suggest that:

  • By telling children earlier rather than later, children have more time to absorb that information over time
  • Planned disclosure can help protect the child from accidentally find out his/her origins, which can be even more damaging

Regardless, the timing of disclosure depends on each family environment, the psychological readiness of the child or children, and the parents' belief whether the child is old enough or not to understand what donor conception is and what it implies.

FAQs from users

I used donor eggs, when should I tell my child?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Deciding when to tell your child depends on your preferences, though experts are in favor of disclosure at some point in the child's life. Telling earlier may help them absorb the information more easily over time.

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References

Authors and contributors

 Rebeca Reus
Rebeca Reus
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Degree in Human Biology (Biochemistry) from the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). Official Master's Degree in Clinical Analysis Laboratory from the UPF and Master’s Degree about the Theoretical Basis and Laboratory Procedures in Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). More information about Rebeca Reus
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
BA, MA
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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