More From The UK: Can You Enforce Openness?

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.



2 responses to “More From The UK: Can You Enforce Openness?

  1. I think they need to be more specific than saying openness. Perhaps something like telling your child their story of conception. If they want to do it based on the research and experts advice in adoption, it is to always talk about it so there is no reveal. Start with talking to your baby and include statements like I am so glad we decided to take part in ART so you could be part of our family…I am sure there is a better way to phrase it. There are adoption books for kids so I am sure even just reworking those would be a fairly easy job. Life Books are the big thing today where you create a book based on how they came into your family etc. If you talk about it from day one by the time the child can actually understand – you the parent are comfortable – so your feelings don’t rub off on the child.

    Silence = shame in relation to how a child thinks in this area. If you are willing to talk about it then it must be okay.

    As to having info available – I consider myself pretty smart – I had NO idea I could get non-id until after the courts had opened my records although when I sent away for it they had nothing on me so record keeping wasn’t a priority back then. I didn’t even think the state would have any services like that and turns out Washington even has a CI program for adoptees and will search and contact. They just don’t promote it.

    I don’t think having info available will make someone who does not want to tell, will make them any more likely to tell. They have to deal with their own insecurities first and foremost and recognise that relationships don’t just dissolve.

    • I like the way you say it–so there is no reveal. And I totally agree on all the rest of what you say about parents/children and that stuff. I think it’s important to consider how to create/encourage the conditions that allow parents to be comfortable/secure/whatever so they can keep a constant conversation going with their kids.

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