Unlike adoption law, where a child’s well-being is placed as a primary consideration in the adoption process, in donor-conception the rights of parents and donors are placed above the rights of the children it creates. The identity of a donor is left anonymous, leaving children wondering who their biological parents are and often seeking an identity that is difficult to find.
The blessing of knowing who we are and where we come from is at times overlooked. While not all may consider that knowledge necessary, for some, that knowledge is a fundamental aspect in developing a self-identity and creating relationships with those around them.
When finally presented the truth at an older age about who they are and where they come from, children of sperm and egg donor’s report feeling a loss of identity when learning they were donor-conceived. Today, many children have surprisingly discovered they were donor-conceived through DNA testing, while others are told when they are young or as adults. This has led to some feeling betrayed or manipulated by the families that raised them.
Take for example the personal experience of Elizabeth Howard, “In the UK, the reality is that donor-conceived people born before 2005 have no right to know the identity of their donor.” She does not know anything about a significant part of who she is or where she came from. All Howard knows is that one day, her father went into an office, donated sperm, was paid and left.
She continues, “I do not have a father, or the sense of identity that goes with one. I do not have any knowledge of half of my roots, my father, my medical history … so every time a doctor asks me, 'Any family history of …?' I have to tell them I do not, and cannot, know.” Howard does not know her father’s name, personality, appearance or even if he knows that she exists.
While the UK passed legislation in 2005 banning anonymous sperm and egg donation, the United States continues to provide anonymous protection to donors, leaving children questioning who they are and where they come from.
Howard notes that such legislation has deprived her of ever knowing her father, taking away a fundamental aspect of who she is and where she comes from. She sadly states, “There is no Hollywood happy ending in sight for us.”
Donor anonymity is dangerous to children because a child without a biological parent, especially a father, present in their lives is at greater risk for emotional and mental illness than those who have their father present.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 1 in 5 children in the United States live without a father in the home. Research conducted by the National Fatherhood Initiative has concluded that children in fatherless homes are:
- Four times more likely to live in poverty.
- More aggressive than children born to married mothers.
- More likely to commit crime and go to prison.
- Seven times more likely to be pregnant as a teen.
- More likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
- Two times more likely to drop out of high school.
Good policy does the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right ways. Good family and child policy aims to create a society where more children are born into homes with their fathers present in their lives. Although donor-conception does not provide for that outcome, it can still provide a way in which children come to know their parents, if they desire, through requiring donors and donor-children to be listed on a national donor registry.2 comments on this story
Currently, a nonprofit organization called the Donor Sibling Registry, or DSR, has provided a means for children, donors and donor-siblings to connect. As of today, 16,806 donor-conceived children have been connected with their half-siblings and/or their donors. However, the DSR has 63,520 members. A national donor registry could provide advantages, including acting as a resource that can help organizations like the DSR connect donors, donor-siblings and donor-conceived children to each other by combining donor information, direct-to-consumer genetic tests and ancestry registries.