There’s much coverage in UK papers of some new provisions of the law governing ART that just took effect. (I’ve linked to a couple of different accounts and with a little work, you could find many more.) These provisions make it possible for people conceived using the same donor’s sperm to locate each other. They are generally referred to here as either half-siblings or donor siblings.
It’s worth thinking about donor siblings for a moment. Siblings generally are minor players in the law–they don’t have a lot of rights vis-a-vis each other. This makes recognition of donor siblings more strictly a social/cultural concern and less a legal one. It also makes it a less complicated issue, since identifying a sibling doesn’t raise autonomy issues that identifying a donor might.
It’s easy for me to understand people’s interest in locating lost siblings. Not long ago the story about some siblings in Maine who rediscovered each other after being separately adopted decades before got quite a bit of media play.
While I assume that adopted children are in a somewhat different position than donor conceived children, I can also see the commonality. Even if people are raised in completely different households, they effect of the shared genetic heritage is doubtless intriguing.
Still, being a legal academic and all, I cannot help but think about the legal aspects of this. One place I can think of that siblings do matter is intestate succession–that is, the distribution of your estate if you die without a will. The idea of intestate succession is that it provides a rule that accomplishes what we think most people would want if they had gotten around to making a choice.
So typically first to inherit is a spouse, if there is one. If no spouse, then children. If no children then parents. If no parents then–right–here we are–siblings.
I’m sure there’s law on who counts as a sibling, but I do not know what it says. I would guess, though, that if two children have been adopted by the same parents, then those children are legally siblings.
If that’s right then it might very well be that the genetically related but separated siblings, like the Maine siblings separated by adoption, would not be recognized as legally siblings. And if that’s true, then surely donor siblings (or half-siblings) wouldn’t be either. Does that seem wrong? (Keep in mind that a person could write a will and direct property as they choose.)
This also leads me to think about the inverse question. Are the siblings you are raised with any less siblings if you discover you are not fully genetic siblings, but ony half-siblings? Or perhaps not genetically siblings at all? To me, the answer here has to be “no.” Two children raised from birth as siblings by the same set of parents are siblings, whether genetically related or not. But again, I wonder what those who place primacy on genetics would say.
Finally, really as a reminder, not long ago the UK barred the use of anonymous gamete donors. All donors are to be identified, although they are not given parental rights and they are not identified until the child reaches 18. The UK currently is experiencing a sperm shortage, and it is said by some that the ban on anonymous donation has caused the decline in the number of donors.