To Tell Or Not To Tell That Is The Question…Unless It Is Told For You

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One of the most discussed, debated and controversial issues in the field of egg donation is disclosure. Namely, whether or not to tell your child about their genetic origins if an egg donor was used. Children having parents not genetically related to them is nothing new as adoption and sperm donation have been around for generations. Yet for reasons that I am not entirely convinced about, the two are not considered equatable. While the majority of parents who use donor sperm never tell their children (I recall one study from about a decade ago that reported that more than 85% of parents using donor sperm never disclosed that to their children), a different standard is emerging for children who are the product of egg donation. Recent studies, including this one, are pretty clear in their findings that children who learn about their origins at a young age do not have negative responses to that information.

Setting aside my own feelings about disclosure for now, it occurred to me as I was writing this post about the custody dispute between a lesbian couple, that perhaps the “to tell or not to tell” reference to Prince Hamlet should be replaced by Robert Burn’s famous line, “the best laid plans of mice and men.” According to the limited number of studies currently available, approximately half of all egg donor recipients have told or plan to tell their children. Based upon my own professional experience, I suspect the number that actually tell is well below 50% as the longer parents wait to tell, the harder it becomes until they finally reach a point of no return. But if parents were concerned that this information would be revealed to their child, against their wishes, would their decision to disclose be affected?

I have unfortunately had to deal with a number of clients who ended up getting separated and divorced during a pending surrogate or egg donor arrangement. In some of these cases, where donor gametes were involved, former clients attempted to prevail in the resulting custody battles by arguing that their genetic connection to the child justified an award of full custody. Marquess of Queensberry rules do not apply in custody disputes where each party throws the kitchen sink at each other in an effort to out-slime their spouse. In the end, the children typically suffer but perhaps even more so where their genetic origins are used as leverage in a divorce.

No parent enters into a surrogate or egg donor arrangement expecting to be divorced from their spouse. However, the realities are that fertility patients get divorced at the same rate as non-fertility parents and with our marriage dissolution rate at approximately 50%, parents really need to assess whether they will ultimately lose the right to choose the time, place and manner of their disclosure and what the resulting impact will be. Parenthetically, a fascinating study out of Denmark a few years ago found that the divorce rate is much lower in patients whose fertility treatment failed. The study, as I recall, found that while the general population got divorced at a 50% clip, only 10% of those who were unsuccessful at having a child through IVF actually got divorced. So if you were fortunate enough to have a child through IVF, you were five times more likely to get divorced than if you remained childless.

For those struggling with the issue of to tell or not to tell your child about their genetic origins, please be mindful of the possibility that someone might make that decision for you.

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