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Truth and the Child 10 Years on: Information Exchange in Donor Assisted Conception.
  1. TONY WATERSON, Consultant Paediatrician (Community Child Health)

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    Truth and the Child 10 Years on: Information Exchange in Donor Assisted Conception. Edited by E Blyth, M Crawshaw, J Speirs. (Pp 83; £5.95.) BASW Publication, Birmingham. ISBN 1 86178 028 1 .

    How much information should children conceived from donor sperm be given about their origin? This is not a small problem now that 2500 children are born in the UK every year using donated gametes or embryos. I must admit that this was a problem that had never crossed my mind despite having an adopted son and being pretty much in favour of openness between parents and children on “secrets of the past”. Yet, if asked, I think I would have said it is different for children born as a result of donor insemination. Why? I suppose because I feel that the relationship a child might have with “a gamete” is different from that with a real father; and the same goes for the genetic father (or mother).

    However, this book convinced me that openness in this field is desirable. It is clearly a situation that will become more common, and the present regulations—genetic parents who are donors have the right not to be identified to children—will need to change. I was particularly impressed by the point of view of “donor children” in this small multiauthor volume, which brings together anthropology, genetics, psychiatry, and the law in a robust attack on the culture of secrecy.

    Christine Whipp did not learn until she was 41 that she had conceived by donor insemination, but she had always had anxieties about her origins. This was partly because of a lack of resemblance to her father, and it is interesting that Lauren, the other donor insemination child who writes in the book says that “when secrets are kept the children often grow up sensing that something is different in their family”. There is another interesting quote from Lauren. “When I was younger I had a particularly nasty fight with my brother and afterwards I went up to mum and said, ‘His donor must have been a terrible man’. Mum asked, ‘why, what makes you say that?’ I replied, ‘Because his nature is nothing like yours!’ ”

    I suspect that these views may not be typical, and that it is unusual for children to observe physical differences from their parents, unless someone draws attention to it. However, I can believe that children sense something unusual about their family, in the same way as they sense disagreement between parents, or a hidden secret about cancer. Another personal chapter in this book, which is elsewhere rather dry and repetitive, is by the mother of surrogate twins, born to another woman (a friend) but genetically her own. She describes her complete openness with the children—in what for them would be a very strange and unnerving experience “we never contemplated telling our children anything but the truth”. One daughter’s comment was “it was a good job we had Kim as your friend mummy, otherwise you wouldn’t have us.” The children grew up not only knowing Kim but also her family. This mother went on to donate an egg which was used for in vitro fertilisation.

    Essentially, Truth and the child is a one sided argument for telling children about their background. I support this, but I went away thinking I should know more about the other side of the argument, which does not appear in this book.

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