A few days back I had a post up about sperm donations in the UK. This story from The Independent seems like something of a follow-up, thought it doesn’t really go off in the same direction. What first caught my attention was the headline, which for the first time that I’ve noticed refers to a “sperm donor boom” in the UK. (Curiously, there’s another contemporaneous UK story, this one from the BBC, that puts a different spin on things.)
The hook for the story in The Independent is that as compensation for donors is rising, so are the number of donors. Of course, rising compensation doesn’t tell the whole story. As the last post on the topic discussed, the number of donors in the UK has been rising for six years while the enhanced compensation just took effect. Still, it does seem likely that the increased compensation will lead to an increase in donors. You’ll have all the folks who were going to donate at the original level plus those people for whom the difference in compensation is determinative.
But generally I think the headline of the story–and in particular the reference to ethics–is a little misleading. The story says a bit about ethics but mostly it’s devoted to other things. There’s an interesting discussion of donor anonymity (which is no longer possible in the UK). I was particularly interested in this line:
Today openness is encouraged, but it is not enforced.
This ties directly to the question I’ve been mulling over in several recent posts, but it puts it in slightly different language. Essentially, I’ve been wondering about whether it is really possible to enforce openness. Particularly with regard to young children, I am not at all sure I understand what that would mean or how it could work.
Consider this excerpt from the same article:
However, the secrecy typical in the past is disappearing. But many parents needed help to disclose the truth.
“It is best to start practising before the child can speak so you can work out a way of doing it, starting with a little bit and slowly building the story. It’s risky to leave it till later because it might come out accidentally, in a family argument, or after a bereavement, and then the aftermath is difficult for everybody.”
If the best way to approach the topic is gradually and repeatedly, starting before the child can talk, I don’t see how anyone but the parents can do it. And I don’t see how (both practically and philosophically) you can force the parents to do it.
What you can do (and I’ve said this before) is impress upon the parents how important it is to do it. And you can provide them with resources (picture books, perhaps?) that will support and reinforce their work with their own child. I’m particularly interested in the study that will be conducted by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
We don’t really have much experience with a regime where the donor conceived have access to contact information on adulthood. I think Victoria might have been among the first jurisdictions to adopt this practice and that was just in 1998 or so. While The Independent article expresses concern that parents will not tell their about-to-be-adult children that they can have access to the information (and therefore the about-to-be-adult children won’t effectively have access), I wonder if this is what is actually happening. I wonder if we could learn here, too, from the history of adoption. As adopted kids have gained access to their records, has it changed the practice of parents in talking to their kids about being adopted? I imagine it has.