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Should You Disclose the Identity of a Donor?

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a blog by David Kreiner, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., East Coast Fertility, October 11, 2010

It has been my experience, as well as that of others in the field, that many individuals conceived through egg or sperm donation are curious about their donor and the donor’s other offspring.

They may fantasize about their genetic parent and siblings. They are curious if they look like them and have similar behavioral traits. They want to know why their donor donated. They almost ubiquitously are curious to meet their donor, whether they want to have ongoing contact or not.

The degree of interest is variable. Where some may simply be satisfied with a picture and information, others may feel comfortable with maintaining anonymity, whereas still others feel a strong desire to physically meet their donor. These feelings typically change over time and may become more significant during certain stages of life, such as at the prospect of an individual starting his or her own family.

Filling in the Blanks

Donor conceived individuals may be looking to fill in the blanks in their identities. Rebecca Hamilton, conceived through donation, wrote in Behind Closed Doors: Moving Beyond Secrecy and Shame, edited by Mikki Morrissette:

“It’s not a ‘Dad’ I’m after. I had a wonderful Dad who raised me. I’m not looking for a replacement. Nor, incidentally, is any other donor-conceived person I have ever met ... Wanting to understand one’s genetic roots is a unique longing that remains no matter how great life is going on other levels.”

Universally, it appears that those individuals who were conceived through donation do not look at the donor as a parent. The donor does not replace the role of the parent. Instead, having an open relationship with a donor can provide answers to questions many donor conceived individuals have about their own identity.

Obtaining Information about Donors

So how do I answer the question, “Should I help my child find her donor?”

Professionals in the field tell us that based on research, developmental theory and clinical experience, that it is best for parents to be honest with their children about their origins. In some cases I may recommend providing them with options for obtaining information about their donor, although many sperm banks and egg donor agencies only facilitate anonymous donations.

Some sperm banks offer the possibility of working with a donor who is willing to be identified to your child any time after your child turns 18. The sperm bank stores data and provides it upon request. Your adult child is the only one in control of this information. If she wants identity information, it is available for her. If she does not desire to know her donor’s identity, the information is never revealed.

However, it is most common, at least in the Northeast, that a definitive plan is not established at the outset for how a donor’s identity would be released. Most programs maintain strict anonymity. There is no guarantee that this information will be available for the child. A third party, which could be an agency, medical office or attorney must obtain the information, and a formal contract, signed by the donor, must state when and how identity information will be released to the donor conceived individual.

Examine Your Feelings

Ultimately, as future parents it is vital to examine your feelings and concerns regarding disclosure of the donor’s identity. Disclosure of the donor’s identity may affect the donor conceived individual and his sense of self. Though the donor does not replace the parent there is potential for creating friction in the relationship. There is also the donor’s family to consider, which will also be impacted by revealing one’s identity to the donor conceived individual.

One must weigh the potential benefit of satisfying curiosities with the risk of causing harm to the relationship with the individual’s parents, as well the risk of causing harm to the donor’s family.

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