Telling Children about Their Conception by Gamete Donation

By BSc, MSc (embryologist).
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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Authors and contributors

 Rebeca Reus
Rebeca Reus
BSc, MSc
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

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    1. klair

      I think it is better that some things are better left unsaid.Look, obviously a person tries to go all measures to achieve their goal of having a baby and to find out one cannot is heart-wrenching and saddening enough to bear.When the same child, which they got from many hectic appointments and wishes, comes to an age he might not accept them parents after being told so why take the risk.getting him by that means was risky enough that is just the added stress.

    2. momnikki

      I was a donor 5 or 6 times. This is all anonymous and no one reports the results. But, when I left the program, the doctor told me afterwards – thank you, you helped many people. That is, most likely, I do have children that I will never know about. Of course, this is somewhat strange to realize. But, nevertheless, parents are first of all those people who brought up the child. They also bear the full responsibility for his fate. So, hardly, in the very fact of donation there can be something immoral. Men also act as donors of sperm – what’s wrong with that? They give someone the opportunity to come into the world. It’s the same with eggs … If I was not a donor, they would just be lost for nothing, because I do not plan on any more children. And so, if a woman has gone on such radical measures as the donor egg and eco (it does not matter to herself or the surrogate mother)… It means that the child will be absolutely sure, first, the long-awaited and beloved and, secondly, well-financed . So I do not see any particular reason for the disorder. Although I heard a story about how doctors had to calm a girl – she had moral and ethical contradictions because she equated donation almost to selling her own children. But this, of course, is not the same thing.

    3. Sally Adams

      And what know that the UK has voted in favor of Brexit? They’ll be out of the UE in less than 2 years time.. So egg donation there is not feasible anymore. It will also be detrimental for birth and fertility tourism. Well, at least it will mean more donors and patients traveling to other European countries, for example Ireland, which has abandoned in the shadows of the UK!!! ¬¬

    4. Lory Kennedy

      I’ve been fearing that ever since I got pregnant with donor eggs. My husband didn’t care that much, but I did the whole time. I knew our son was gonna find it out at some point, and I was afraid he would reject us for that… We went for psychological counseling and it was a relief as our MHP said parentage is not all about genetics and all the love we were willing to give our child was all that mattered… And now he’s 9 years old, he knows about it and he doesn’t care. When we told him he was like “Okay” and nothing else. He’s happy, we’re happy and I’m not concerned anymore 🙂