As women postpone having children and face the ticking of their biological clocks, they may turn to donor eggs or donor sperm to help them have children. For women (and men) in Washington State, the fertility industry will be transformed in late July, 2011. Under a law recently signed by the governor, anyone who provides sperm or eggs to a fertility clinic in the state must also provide identifying information and a medical history. While that is, in fact, a customary practice for most fertility clinics, another part of the law will allow children born from donated gametes to return to the fertility clinic when they reach the age of 18 to request the identifying information and the medical history. Although the donor can file a disclosure veto that prevents the clinic from revealing the identifying information, the donor offspring will still be entitled to the medical information.
No other U.S. state has taken the same steps. Not only can fertility clinics destroy records long before the child turns 18, but also donor offspring are not entitled to any information about their donors and medical information is rarely updated and shared amongst donors and recipient families.
Some international laws are different. Sweden enacted legislation in 1984 that allows donor offspring the right to receive identifying information about their donor. Other countries have followed, with Austria, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and some states in Australia all prohibiting anonymous gamete donation, and also setting up systems to help people find out their donor’s identity. In May, shortly after the governor signed the Washington state legislation, the British Columbia Supreme Court declared that people conceived by donor gametes had to be treated in the same way as people who had been adopted with respect to accessing information about their biological parents.
The new Washington law is an important milestone. It is, however, flawed, because it includes a disclosure veto, allowing the donors’ alleged interests in privacy to trump the interests of donor-conceived offspring and the intending parents in learning the donor’s identity. For many donor offspring, learning about their biological parent is much more than just learning about their medical history. The issues and concerns of donor offspring are often complex and multi-dimensional. Many feel that until they know about their ancestral, genetic heritage, they will not properly be able to form a full self-identity. As in adoption, many speak of the great desire to know their biological parents so that they can better understand themselves. After many decades of silence, and fueled by the movement towards full disclosure within families, the voices of donor conceived people are being heard round the world, and they demanding what they see as their basic human rights to know about and connect with their genetic families.
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