Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsI think the questions around genetic parenthood and disclosure or non-disclosure of one’s genetic heritage are just incredibly interesting and incredibly important, I think. Now, one of the sets of issues that really exercises me is the debate, and it has been a public debate, very public debate at the moment over whether or not people who have used donated gametes to conceive their children Should disclose to those children the fact that they are not genetically related to them. So, this came up for example, at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics when I was a member of the council. And we wrote a report on assisted donation, donor conception.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 secondsAnd there was a huge debate within the council, even within the council members on the ethics of disclosure. And two positions where elaborated. That many people adhered to either the one or the other. One was that-, one common stance is that the most important thing is the sort of parental relationship between child and parent. The biology doesn’t really matter. So, what matters is, if you like, if you feel that person is your parent then, and they’ve been parenting you, then effectively they are your parent. And the other, and therefore you don’t have an obligation to disclose. And in fact to disclose can disrupt those kinds of family dynamics.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 secondsNow, that is a sentiment that I’m kind of, you know sympathetic to, for sure and it especially arises in circumstances where you have as many people have said, situations where culturally or socially the use of donor, you know, gametes is unacceptable. So a common example that is thrown up are circumstances where the parents are of a particular ethnic background, or a particular religious, you know, community or whatever, where the use of donated gametes is widely viewed as not acceptable.

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 secondsAnd that if they disclose to the child or it became known that the child was not actually the biological child of that father, lets say and that they’d used donated sperm, that, that child would be not acceptable within the society, vilified and so on. Now, you know I can see how compelling that argument can be if you happen to be in that kind of a minority group. However, the other argument is that even though biology is not everything and I certainly subscribe to the view that biology is not everything, I mean, my own children are not biologically my own, they are my partner’s.

Skip to 2 minutes and 51 secondsSo, I am very much of the view that biology is not everything and doesn’t have to be everything. But nevertheless, I personally think it is an important part of people-, part of people’s whole makeup and holistic kind of view of who they are and where they come from. It is not determinant, it doesn’t determine who you are, by any stretch of the imagination. But, it is a part of the fabric of who you are. Consequently, and certainly in our society where genetic parenthood is so reified, is so valorised you know, people, all that stuff about blood is thicker than water and so on and so on, people really do care a lot about who their genetic biological parents are.

Skip to 3 minutes and 36 secondsAnd so, if we don’t tell them do we sort of visit upon them a certain kind of deception that is some would argue morally wrong? Even if they are not aware of it, we’re aware of it, we are aware that we are deceiving them and indeed other people in the family maybe as well aware of that, for example, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and so on who may know something about their conception.

How important is biology?

Donor conception highlights - and at the same time challenges - our idea of what it means to be a parent. It highlights the biological nature of parenthood, as it involves a genetic link; yet at the same time it challenges how important that link is.

As we saw in this week’s introduction, there are biological and social parents and they are not always the same person. A donor parent may be involved in a child’s life, or later on if they are contacted, but in many cases they are not.

Even so, our notions around parenthood are changing and some believe we are placing more emphasis on our biology today than we ever did.

Consider, for example, the way in which some people might refer to a biological parent as the ‘real parent’. This kind of language is a source of concern for non-biological, social parents, who are the ones actually doing the parenting.

At the same time, new family forms are challenging this narrative and assisted reproduction continues to give new meaning to the debate around the importance of biology.

The way we think of biological parenthood reflects the way we think about ourselves in general. Professor Parry suggests that biology is part of who we are, but not the core of who we are.

This is important because it impacts on our choices with regards to assisted fertility and gamete donation, where the question of the importance of biology and genetic links is brought to the fore.

Questions to consider: Do you agree that the biological parenthood is ‘valorised’ in society? How important is it in your family or your community? Do you think the nature of parenthood is changing, and if so, in what way?

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Making Babies in the 21st Century

UCL (University College London)