Should you be told if your fa­ther was a sperm donor?

As a new study ques­tions the value of dis­clos­ing the truth about egg and sperm do­na­tion, Kate Gra­ham ex­plores whether hon­esty is al­ways the best pol­icy

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - CONTENTS -

I t was a Sun­day af­ter­noon in Au­gust 2008 when Jess’s mother broke the news. ‘She just said to me, “There’s some­thing I need to tell you,”’ Jess, now 37 and a mother of two, re­calls.

‘She was tearful and shak­ing. A pit of fear opened in my stom­ach and ev­ery­thing stopped. All I could think was that she was go­ing to die.’

Mov­ing to sit be­side her, the next words Jess heard were the last she was ex­pect­ing. ‘She said, “Your dad isn’t your real dad.” I breathed a huge sigh of re­lief. My first thought was that she’d had an af­fair but

I just sat there in re­lief and shock. Then, as we hugged, she told me the story.’

When Jackie be­came preg­nant with Jess, it was kept se­cret that it was the re­sult of a sperm do­na­tion, ar­ranged through a Lon­don IVF clinic. (Jackie and her hus­band had been un­able to con­ceive with­out this.)

‘Mum was scared about how I would re­act. Would I never speak to her again? But while I was hear­ing some­thing I’d never dreamt of, I didn’t cry. It was al­most like an out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence. I just ac­cepted it.’

Her mother had been moved to re­veal the truth af­ter hear­ing a ra­dio pro­gramme on donor con­cep­tion. But Jess wanted to know why she had kept it a se­cret for so long. ‘Mum told me that the doc­tors ad­vised her not to tell any­one, not even her GP. I didn’t blame her then – and I still don’t. She fol­lowed the ad­vice she was given, as any­one would.’

It’s ad­vice you’d be un­likely to hear from a doc­tor to­day. Since UK law changed

13 years ago, egg and sperm donors can’t be anony­mous: all chil­dren con­ceived by donor af­ter 1 April 2005 will have the right to know their donor’s name (and other de­tails such as their med­i­cal his­tory) when they reach 18. But while the law is clear, for fam­i­lies it’s far harder to nav­i­gate. While a sur­vey by sup­port group We Are Donor Con­ceived found that the vast ma­jor­ity of the pub­lic be­lieve it’s wrong to hide the truth from these chil­dren, noth­ing forces par­ents to tell them. And a small re­cent study by Cam­bridge aca­demics found that, in fact, about half the chil­dren con­ceived by egg do­na­tion and nearly three quar­ters of those con­ceived by donor sperm had not been told by the age of seven. The main rea­son their par­ents gave was that there was ‘no need to tell’, fol­lowed by a de­sire to ‘pro­tect’ their child. An­other re­cent study at Ghent Univer­sity con­cluded that there’s no proven ben­e­fit to the child’s psy­cho­log­i­cal well-be­ing (it fo­cused solely on that, rather than eth­i­cal con­cerns).

It’s a con­clu­sion that flies in the face of our in­creas­ingly open cul­ture, and one that in­fu­ri­ates Jess. She didn’t re­alise how lucky she was un­til she met other donor-con­ceived adults at a sup­port group. ‘Many found out in ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances, such as on some­one’s deathbed. Mum and I just talked about it. No dra­mat­ics, no Eas­tEn­ders mo­ment. I’m not an­gry or bit­ter that I didn’t know sooner, but I’m very glad I know now,’ she says.

‘How can you pos­si­bly say peo­ple don’t need to know the truth? That’s tak­ing away some­one’s right to know their back­ground, their med­i­cal his­tory, ev­ery­thing.’

Sarah*, 38, who lives with her hus­band and

Right Jackie hold­ing a two-day-old Jess. Be­low Jackie and Jess on Jess’s wed­ding day

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