« The emotions, balanced they are not | Main | You know all that debate we had about vaginal birth versus C-section? »

Wednesday, 01 August 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Putting this information on birth certificates to me seems like a bit of an invasion of the child's privacy. I don't think I would like the various institutions that have needed copies / sight of my birth cert. over the years to know that I were conceived by donor egg!
On the other hand I do agree with openness. I think there are a lot of similarities with adopted children here, and that although it must be very, very tempting to ignore the issues - children need to grow up knowing the truth about their background. In the same way that it is now seen as quite wrong to have kept adopted children in the dark, and so many poor kids found out about their adoptive status by accident, or very suddenly in less than ideal circumstances, I think that children born by DE or DS should grow up with the knowledge of this. Ultimately it will become just as accepted as any other family arrangement, and surely the child will always live in the knowledge that they were desperately wanted.
The whole issue is plagued with problems, especially as it will always boil down to how the relationships and family works the issues through, but I believe that if the bottom line is to base it on honesty, that is probably the right direction.
And finally, maybe I am an eternal optimist, but I also believe that the egg and sperm donor problem will at least improve a little as people come to understand and accept the need to be honest - for the sake of those yearned-for children they are helping to create.


Like Vivien, I think this legislation seems like an invasion of the child's privacy. I am all for openness, but to me there is a distinction between openness between the parents and child about the circumstances of conception, and the child's right to determine who has access to that information.

In the US, adoption (and, like you, I am aware that adoption is not the same as donor conception) is not necessarily reflected in the child's birth certificate. For example, if I someday in the distant future actually ever complete an intercountry adoption, and we then "readopt" in my state, the state issues a new birth certificate that lists us as the parents. The implication to anyone looking at the birth certificate is that the child is a product not just of our combined genetic material, but also of my body. Thus, with respect to that adoption, it would be our child's business to share or not to share the fact that we do not share genetics, nor did I give birth to him or her. It would seem to me that children conceived through donor gametes should be entitled to at least the same level of privacy.

It's also unclear to me what exactly the policy behind the legislation is. I'd like to hear why the proponents believe that this is something the government should know. Off to check the links to see if that information is there...


Ugh- where to go with that one? Child's privacy issues, parents' privacy issues, I could go on and on. I too think the child deserves to know and in this day and age will find out anyway, but it is the parents' responsibility and right to do the explaining.


And how exactly would this be enforced?


Dear Thalia, I think putting that information on a birth certificate woule be a very problematic idea. It would seem almost as if that would only be fair if every single parent were genetically tested to determine whether his genes matched his/her child's. As things now stand, if a married woman had a fling with the neighbor, for example, and gave birth to his biological child, the government would have no trouble putting her husband's name on the birth certificate (mainly because they -- and probably he, come to think of it -- would have no bloody clue), and it would be up to the mother to let her child in on the circumstances of his/her conception.

I fail to see what good it would do the child to have that information put out for all to see.


I think it goes beyond the question of who has the right to tell or not tell the child. Even for parents who fully intend to tell their children, should it be part of public record? Does the government have the right to know? I believe the child has the right to know but I'm not sure that anyone else has the right to know something so private and making it part of a document such as a birth certificate makes it public record and that seems wrong to me.

Where does it end anyway? What about children conceived via infidelity, who controls that? (Not applicable to donor egg obviously) and if DI or DE is done abroad, who tracks that info (we have enough security checks at the airport without adding gamete checks!)?

Complicated stuff. Great post!

Drowned Girl

I'm guessing that this would be the LONG birth certficate, and the child would still have a short birth certificate that didn't include the information... similar to adoption

This is a full copy of the birth entry and includes particulars of parentage and registration.

A short certificate shows only the name and surname, sex, date of birth and district of birth

Erika, Plain Jane Mom

I agree that the child needs to be told, but by a government document? Give me a break.

Adoption is so much easier to explain at a young age than DI/DS. I wouldn't even know how to begin, but I guarantee it would be at a later age. Not in the interest of secrecy, but it's hard to explain the biology of it to a 3 year old!

Lut C.

Don't ask me, I live in a land where anonymous donor conception has just been introduced in legislation. Open donation of gametes is tolerated, open donation of embryos is illegal.
And the logic behind that is ??? Discrimination, if you ask me.


Drowned Girl is correct in her assessment. The short form that everyone is issued and has to show for school registration or whatever would not have it, but the long form, or birth registration would have it, as it currently does for adoption in many countries and states. Even the ones that don't have names of birth parents have phrases like "Date Adoption order issued", etc.

So privacy among the general public isn't a problem with this. And frankly, as an adoptee, who supposedly was matched for appearance, race, religion, etc. to my adoptive parents, I have to laugh at the idea that the general public WOULDN'T know. After all that effort by social workers I looked nothing like them. Zero. Everyone knew I was adopted, and not just because of appearance, but gossip.

I've spoken to donor kids as well, and everyone knows about their origins as well. Usually family members know and talk about it within earshot, and surprise! They find out that way, or when covering basic genetics which begins in elementary school, or by doing an online DNA test after wondering where their musical talent comes from.

Online DNA tests are cheap and easy to do, and if my 10 year old already covered this when he was in Grade 3, and is building a double helix for fun in summer camp, then practically speaking, there are no secrets anymore either for cheating spouses or couples who use donor gametes.

About that privacy legislation btw, in Canada, ours was designed so that any and all descendants of a person are legally allowed to access the person's medical records, so that they can track genetic diseases, to protect their own health. So my kids are legally allowed forever to see all my medical records, now or long after I'm dead, if they are trying to get information for medical history.

This legislation was based on other countries, so I'm guessing the US and UK may have similar entries. So even without this change, the kids will know in the end. This just tells the truth upfront.


I'm really bothered by this idea. Yes, I believe that children conceived by donor gametes should be told the circumstances of their birth, because I think that otherwise, they end up being told lies (i.e. "I think your great-great-grandmother could roll her tongue, maybe that's where it comes from."). At the same time, I'm not sure how you address that with a little child.

Even if there were a short-form without the information, I'm disturbed by the privacy issues with having it on the long-form. Why do people in the hospital where a child is born need to know if the child was conceived via donor gametes? They don't, but they will find out regardless when they collect the form. And frankly, that's just opening up whole cans of worms.


Because some government flunky needs to know that kind of shit when you apply for a driver's license, right?

Furthermore, would the donor's name be in addition to or instead of the parents' names? Because let me tell you, if it's instead, that could get really complicated, really fast.

Sam has a daughter, and several times he has had to produce her birth certificate during travel and other official type kerfuffles. How shitty would it be in those situations if he and the mother of his daughter had used donor sperm and the birth certificate listed someone else as the father?

Yes, the child definitely has a right to know, but every county clerk, registrar and nosy parker does NOT.


Umm... UK gov't? Mind your own beeswax, huh? I would write something much more profound, but my little donor conception is trying to hit all the keys of the keyboard for me.

On second thought:

Yes, we plan on telling our daughter about dc (maybe not at 3... but certainly when she can understand it), NO it is not the government's place to tell every airport security worker the intimate details of her conception.

Besides, I don't see how having a special indication on a birth certificate (which for some reason makes me feel like my daughter is somehow *less* than a "naturally" conceived child) will solve any of the telling/not telling issues.

It would be insanely easy to get around this law, anyway. Unless they want to make ALL parents prove the paternity of their newborns.


I'm all jet-legged and cranky, so I'll make my opinion short and sweet: If you can't tell your child that s/he was concieved using donor gametes then don't concieve that way. It's slefish to keep something like that a secret and your child will not thank you for it when they find out. And they will find out. Asking the government to legislate parental selfishness seems beyond absurd to me.

But, like I said, I'm very cranky right now. Apologies to anyone I've offended.


I just read what Donnie said and she said what I think much more elegantly than I did. Skip what I said and just reread her comment.


I like the idea of donor gametes being recorded on such a significant personal document and I like the idea that the donors are recorded so if there are medical conditions all children can be found and notified if they're at risk.

But I don't like that they're recorded on something that you're required to provide to so many outside people (like schools & banks) who simply have no need to know that information.

Perhaps you could opt to have that information recorded and you could pay to have a personal certificate sent out that had that information while the legal public document doesn't. I just don't think it's right that people are forced to record something so personal.


If you consider this a "medical issue," then you must accept wider effects. For example, the doctors who discover that the child they are treating is not the genetic child of the father -- and this happens frequently -- would be required to inform the father, the child, and the authorities, so that new birth certificates could be issued.... (The current policy is to speak the mother privately about the issue, if medically necessary.)

This is a social issue. (Birth certificates are not medical documents.) The patterns of telling and not telling a child about donor gametes vary according to culture -- northern Europeans being more likely to tell than southern. But shouldn't social and administrative matters should be kept separate?

In terms of actual effectiveness, if you want to create a society in which openness about one's genetic origins is standard, there are more effective ways of doing that: providing public, positive examples, for example. Mandating disclosure without creating an environment in which donor gametes are publicly embraced simply won't work. It will instead add to a sense of "tainted origins" and encourage people to lie.

(I, who am pursuing treatment with donor material, would certainly lie to the administration about this if such a law were in place. Though I plan on telling any child I might have!)

There are horrifying historical examples of what complete administrative records lead to. I live in the Netherlands part of the time, and knowing the history of that country, I can no longer consider the town hall a safe repository for personal information.

Apologies for my high-horse tone. I understand those who want children to know their genetic origins -- but isn't the goal a society in which knowing would not be painful or shameful? I want my children to know. I would never dream of telling someone else's child.


yeah i agree with the invasion of the child's privacy comments. the kid should absolutely be told (in my opinion, like you said, not having been there), but they should be subject to having it known every time they show their birth certificate for whatever purpose.


As an egg donor myself, I think it's absolutely outrageous that they want to do this. The reason? When donating the eggs, it's perfectly clear that we are not "the mother". Yes, there's a biological element there, but we are not the mother of the child from a pure legal perspective (as things stand today). This is absolutely how it should be. I would have been very angry to know I would be listed on any potential birth certificate, not because of a violation of my privacy, but due to a violation of the donee family's privacy. I viewed donating eggs like I view donating blood-I'm just helping someone out. I wish them luck. What the outcome of my egg donation was out of my reach, and that was fine. It was weird enough knowing that they could look me up at age 18.

I also worry this could lead to uncomfortable situations where women forget they're NOT the mothers in terms of egg donation. What if-and I'm sure it will happen-one of the egg donors decides she won't be having her own kids, but she would like to raise and know those she did contribute to? Would a mother who received a donated egg then be at the mercy of a court? Would it all have to be drawn out?

The medical argument of detailing the donors is flimsy at best-I had to go through very rigorous testing and genetic counselling, as I understand sperm donors do, too. They test for a huge host of conditions and issues.

I can't see the need for listing this info on the birth certificate, and I worry it will burden an already creaking UK donor system.


When I heard this on the radio I hoped that you would post about it, Thalia.

Interesting and very thought-provoking comments.

My husband and I are currently giving soul-searching thought to extending our family using donor eggs. While I had reached the conclusion that I would tell any child we might be lucky enough to have through this process (and kiddy books to explain it apparently do exist: check out the lovely hard boiled's blog on donoregg.blogspot.com/2005/02/books-on-donor-egg_27.html), my instinctive reaction on hearing the proposal to make disclosure mandatory on birth certificates was a horrified 'NO'.

I'm not sure why exactly. Only a couple of our very closest friends have known about our previous many IVF cycles, although now that we have our son I am more open in telling people, where I judge it relevant and appropriate. I am a deeply private person, and the thought of DE information being available to the generally well-meaning but gossip-ridden local authorities/health professionals in my part of rural Scotland makes me shudder.

I feel very strongly that donor gamete information is something our potential child should know, and even more strongly that this information should be his or hers to disclose when, where and to whom he or she chooses.

I second swisschard's comments about this being not a medical but a social issue, and I share her deep concerns about future possible misuse of the information to the discomfort, detriment or worse of donor gamete children.


I am not sure that this anecdote is relevant to this conversation, but --

I am told that a friend-of-a-friend, when she went to get her driver's license issued (at age 16, here in the US), and saw her birth certificate for the first time, learned that the woman she thought was her genetic mother (and who was her social mother) was her genetic aunt -- and vice versa. In other words, as is (or was) not (I think) uncommon, an older married woman had "adopted" her younger, unmarried sister's daughter. Though I surmise that the adoption was not, perhaps, legal -- but more what might be described as a common-law arrangement.

Um, suffice it to say that learning this information as (almost) a young adult, while standing in line in a public space, was not (as I understand it) the best arrangement.

Yeah, I don't think public legal documents are the best way to do this, if it need be done at all. Perhaps in medical records? But even requiring it there -- enforceable?

I was amused when, after I gave birth (in the US), I was required to sign various documents before various medical procedures could be provided to my son. My husband, the child's father, was not. When I commented on this, I was told it was because in the hospital they are sure of who the mother is, but not of who the the father is. Well, yes and no. He is an IVF baby, and may be no more genetically mine than he is his (social) dad's. Actually as it happens, barring our clinic having done something we are unaware of and did not consent to, we are both his genetic as well as his social parents. But the hospital has no way of knowing that.


What they said.


I should probably read all the comments but I'm lazy and feeling guilty for having so much to catch up on.

I have thought about all of this. A lot. As both an egg donor and as someone looking to build my family through donor gametes/embryos.

I have very strong opinions on this, which I'm sure surprises no one at all that knows me.

I do feel that every child has the right to know who their genetic parents are. Full stop.

I'm a bit sick of this "do what's best for your own family" crap that's so popular on some of the donor boards. Frankly, I think you need to do what's best for the CHILD and I think that includes honesty about their genetic origins. If you aren't ready to tell them that, then you aren't ready to have donor conceived children.

I don't feel that this translates itself at all to birth certificates for donor conceived children. It is different that adopted children because the biological parents are the parents that give birth and I think that's what should be on the birth certificate.

Hope you're doing well and holding on. You're sooooo close. That must be reassuring and terrifying all at the same time.


Wow, that is pretty incredible stuff. I'm all for honesty and openness, but no way would I want that kind of information available as a matter of public record.


I am totally for honesty with a child but I feel it is my decision when and how. The notation of birth certificates smacks of a "marking out" of donor-conceived children. Perhaps armbands or tattoos instead??? Sorry, that was flippancy combined with anger.

This is not a law yet so if you are a UK citizen, please write to your MP to express your disquiet and disapproval. Drowned Girl kindly left a link on her blog for sending to MPs.

T, hope you are well and keeping your feet up ;)


Peggy Orenstein writes about some of the issues in an article in the New York Times Mag (go to pg 7 for the discussion of when/how/whether to tell).


I don't think it should be legislated. If non donor using couples can and do lie (one estimate is as many as 10% of people don't have the genetic parents they think they do), then donor recipients shouldn't have to tell the truth. I also echo the question of who's going to enforce this? I do think it's important for the child to have an accurate medical history, though.


Just catching up! Wanted to say hello!

The comments to this entry are closed.

September 2011

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported