Fertility and genetics charity the Progress Educational Trust (PET) highlights today, at its free-to-attend #PETknowndonor event, the pros, cons and consequences of known donation – an alternative route to parenthood which is becoming more easily available and accessible as a result of social media and online donor matching platforms.
Sarah Norcross, director of PET, said: ‘For people needing egg or sperm donors to help create their family, known donation – where donor recipients know the identity of the egg or sperm donor – is one potential route to parenthood. Known donation is not a new phenomenon but it is becoming more widely known, easily available and accessible for would-be parents as a result of social media, such as Facebook groups, and more specialised online platforms which facilitate the linking up of known donors with recipients. As the number of people turning to known donation increases, the big questions are: what is the best way to approach such arrangements and how do we best support recipients, donors and the resulting donor-conceived children?’
The #PETknowndonor debate will hear from Dr Petra Nordqvist, researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Manchester’s Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives; Nina Barnsley, director of the Donor Conception Network; Natalie Gamble, fertility lawyer at NGA Law; Natasha Fox, a donor-conceived adult who has always known about her assisted conception (from an unknown donor) and Erika Tranfield, founder and director of Pride Angel, an online website connecting gamete donors and prospective parents.
Dr Petra Nordqvist, researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Manchester’s Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives, highlighted the findings of the Curious Connections Project, which explores the impact of donating egg or sperm on the everyday lives of donors (including known donors), their partners and their parents. Dr Nordqvist said: ‘In terms of known donation, some of the key findings are that known donors have a real sense of what it means to be a good donor: taking a step back, being neutral, being hands off, taking the lead from the parents and later the child.’ She added: ‘There’s a real attractiveness about being a known donor. It can quickly become a profound connection. The known donor wants that connection and looks for it but it’s not muscling in on the parents, but about developing deep, meaningful relationships.’
Erika Tranfield, founder of Pride Angel, said: ‘Pride Angel was set up in 2009: I had seen websites offering sperm donation but asking for sex too; I wanted to offer a safe alternative to this seedy underground world of known sperm donation. We now have 90,000 members globally and the numbers are growing exponentially, in part due to people’s awareness increasing.’ Ms Tranfield, who is also a mother to a donor-conceived child from known donation, said: ‘I wanted to meet the donor and have them involved in my child’s life. It is absolutely wonderful: my daughter has met him and his parents too. She’s got this extended family.’
Nina Barnsley, director of the Donor Conception Network, noted there are four types of known donors: family members, friends, acquaintances and people who were strangers before they became the known donor. She said: ‘The boundaries between recipients and donors are less clear in known donation than they are in anonymous or identity-release donation (where donor-conceived people are entitled to access information about their donor when they turn 18), and the boundaries can vary markedly between the types of known donors.’
She added: ‘Before entering into known donation, DC Network advises lots of counselling and to always go through all the details, ideally with a lawyer; you need an expert in the field who can highlight all possible scenarios. You need to think through how to manage decision-making now and in the future, and consider what might change, including trying to factor in the feelings of a child that doesn’t even exist yet. Preparation is key. Don’t rush the process and recognise feelings and wishes can change when children arrive.’
Natalie Gamble, fertility lawyer at NGA Law said: ‘Having as much information about who has collaborated to bring a child into the world is to be welcomed, since accessibility to information and an absence of family secrets sets the best foundation for donor-conceived people. However, known donation brings a risk of disputes between the adults which, when they do happen, can significantly impact on the child. Problems are most likely where there is not enough clarity at the start about what the donor’s role should be or where feelings change further down the line, so known donation arrangements need to be carefully set up and managed.’
Ms Gamble added: ‘Current UK law does not provide enough flexibility for families to choose who should be recorded on their child’s birth certificate. Like some other jurisdictions around the world, the UK should allow families to choose whether a donor is legally a donor or a parent and should allow three- and four-parent birth certificates for children born into co-parenting arrangements.’
Natasha Fox, 28, is a donor-conceived adult who was raised in a proud single parent family (her mum was the first Scottish woman to access IVF as a single woman) and has always known about her assisted conception (from an unknown donor). Natasha does not know the identity of her donor but is aware of five half-siblings and is in contact with one of them after identification via a DNA test. Over the years her interest in finding her donor has changed. Aged 10, she wrote letters to him, as a teenager her curiosity intensified, and she tried to persuade her mum to hire a private detective. ‘The curiosity, if anything, has increased as I’ve got older,’ she says, but stresses: ‘Donor conception is an important, but not defining, part of my life. The fact I was told at a young age has helped me feel so confident about this.’
Known Unknowns: the Pros, Cons and Consequences of Known Donation is at 18.30- 20.00 BST on 16 September 2020. When covering this story, please mention PET and the #PETknowndonor event, which is produced by PET in partnership with the University of Manchester’s Morgan Centre for Research into Everyday Lives, with funding from UK Research and Innovation. Register for the event here.