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The key ethical issues in donor conception

This article discusses the key ethical issues in donor donation, and how new rules are making it easier to identify donors.

In the past, sperm donation was a fairly uncontroversial affair. A medical student might spend a lunch break taking the opportunity to earn some pocket money by donating to a fertility clinic. Rarely if ever would he think about the outcome of his donation.

There was a time when virtually all sperm donation to clinics was anonymous. It was not seen as important for the child to know or have access to identifiable information about the donor. That is still the case in many parts of the world today.

Identifiable donors

However, many countries have now changed their practices in relation to donor anonymity. In this interview, Professor Macklin describes how the field has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades in favour of known or identifiable donors.

In the past, prospective parents would often receive a few details about the donor. They might be given physical descriptions such as the donor’s eye and hair colour, their interests or their achievements.

Today, many countries have gone one step further and made it mandatory for donors to be identifiable, meaning that they can be contacted by the donor-conceived child in the future.

The role the donor plays has changed

In countries where this is allowed, donors can now be contacted by the child once they reach adulthood. This means that the role that the donor plays in the family structure changes, and this might have consequences for parental choices and whether they choose to disclose to the child.

Accidental disclosure

Like Diana Baranowski highlighted in her interview, the one thing that can be very damaging to the family dynamic is accidental disclosure.

Professor Macklin then goes on to cover egg sharing, which some clinics offer as part of their fertility service. Here problems can arise with regards to who gets to determine access to such donated gametes, and whether new laws are making it harder for clinics to recruit sufficient donors.

Concerns around religion

Finally, Professor Macklin mentions how concerns about anonymity might vary depending on cultural and religious background. In an increasingly globalised and multicultural world, it is vital to understand the perspectives that different cultures have on what family means to them.

The opportunities that the new assisted reproductive technologies bring are testing long-standing societal norms and the pace of change can be challenging.

If you’d like to learn more about ethical issues in donor conception, check out the full online course from UCL, below. 

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Making Babies in the 21st Century

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