Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

A rights-based perspective

Bioethics interview
Making babies in the 21st Century
The key concepts are trying to balance the role-, well you can look at it from a rights perspective, so the rights of the child, the rights of the parents and in fact the rights of the donor. One of the problems we are seeing in a rights perspective way is that is very adversarial. It is very hard, you know, somebody’s rights can trump others, which become the more fundamental rights to uphold. So, I think you can see it in that way and arguably in the UK we’ve very much gone down a sort of welfare of the child.
And if you look at the debates on when anonymity was changed in 2005 and the public consultations that proceeded that, there was very much a sense the child’s welfare and the child’s interests how, obviously however defined, should take precedence. And despite the medical profession and probably the vast majority of donor conception parents who weren’t keen on the change, it was decided that it was still in the best interests of the child to at least have the option to find out, the identity of their donor. So I think, I mean, you can make a good case for why the children interests and/or rights should be seen as more important.
We tend to see children as vulnerable, as entities we should protect and therefore act in their best interests as parents. So you can see where that comes from. But, the counter-arguments to that are, if you are a parent and you want to build your family in a very specific way, lots of parents do, do things that their children don’t agree with. That is one thing that could-, and the perceptions and secondly how we define best interests. Some people would argue that it is not important to know the identity of your gamete donor. That’s unimportant and other people would see it as a fundamental human right. And I think, really, that depends on the individuals involved.
How the particular child and when they become an adult, because of course we are talking about someone who is not always going to be a child and dependent on their parents, how they will see it in the future. I think there is a big practical issue with secrecy for a start. Regardless of the ethics of it we’ve just done a study on donor-conceived adults ranging from, in age, from 20+ because obviously it has been going for a long time. And the way they found out they were donor conceived often is in a family row, finding documents quite a few found documents when they were going through their parents things after their parents had died.
So, there is a very basic issue with can you keep this secret? And lots of people tell others as well that they are having treatments. So, you can create quite a complex pattern of knowing in families. And in our data that very much came out and they said my aunt knows or, you know, so and so knows but they’ve been told not to tell me and I don’t know who knows. So, there’s lots of practical issues with secrecy that I think, to maintain a secret, which is a fairly big secret, and an important secret, and how important ethically it is, we can debate that. But, throughout a life time I think is challenging.

Lucy Frith is a reader in Bioethics and Social Science at the University of Liverpool. She shares some findings from her research about the ways donor-conceived children have found out about their genetic heritage, and the practical implications of secrecy.

Dr Frith too believes in the importance of reproductive freedom. However, she also believes that children have the right to know their biological heritage, and that parents have an obligation to be open with their children about their donor-conceived status.

The other concern that is highlighted here is interests of the child. At times, the interest of the child can be at odds with parental freedom. For example, the desire to keep secret that a child is donor-conceived, could mean that the child is prevented from knowing important genetic information about themselves.

Again this discussion highlights how we often encounter a balancing of rights, where we have to decide which of two rights is primary. Dr Frith is clear that for her, the interests of the child to know, outweigh the interests of the parents to keep the donation a secret.

For your discussion: Where do you stand? Do you think there is sufficient grounds for saying that parents have a duty to tell? And can you think of ways in which it might not be in the interest of the child to know?

This article is from the free online

Making Babies in the 21st Century

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now