08/01/2012 08:24 EDT | Updated 10/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Should Your Donor Offspring Know Its Biological Parents?


Despite significant advances in assisted reproductive technologies (ART), if a woman has poor egg quality, either due to age, genetics or other factors, she is unlikely to conceive using her own eggs. So as barriers to adoption increase, egg donation is becoming a more popular option for couples who are unable to use their own eggs.

Unfortunately, because there is little public knowledge about egg donation, and because it is illegal to pay for eggs in Canada, it is often difficult for a woman to find a donor. On occasion, a woman will have a close friend or relative who is an appropriate candidate, but if this is not the case, often the intended parents are forced to search for an altruistic donor through various media such as Craigslist or local newspapers. Obviously this is not ideal, and many couples are not comfortable with this option.

Because the laws are different south of the border, there are a number of egg banks located in the United States, and some Canadians are now opting to head to one of these in to build their families. Much like online dating, these egg banks provide a detailed profile of the donors to prospective clients. There are many things for couples to consider when choosing a donor: her health history; her physical appearance; her ethnic, racial or religious background, etc. What many couples initially do not consider, however, is whether or not they have found an open ID donor.

Many egg donor programs are completely anonymous, meaning that while prospective parents are given very detailed information about the donors, including their baby/childhood photos, they are not given their actual identity or adult photographs. This means that neither they, nor their offspring, will ever know the actual identity of the donor. While this may seem sensible, as a way to protect all parties involved, there is evidence that many donor offspring believe it is their right to know the identity of their biological parent, and it is, in fact, in their best interest to have this option available to them.

Contrary to what many people believe, there is no evidence that disclosure of donor identity is in any way a threat to either the donor or the intended parents. Intended parents often worry that the offspring will eventually reject the mother in favour of the donor, or that the donor will eventually show up making claims on their child.

In fact, a donor cannot legally do so, and when donor offspring seek out their biological parent, it is not because they reject the parent who raised them, it is because they are curious about their identity, and their biological parent is an important element of who they are.

There is also some resistance within the assisted reproductive industry due to fears that a move towards open ID donor programs will scare off the already limited number of willing donors and decrease the already limited options for individuals seeking donor eggs. Yet there has already been a move in many countries around the world toward eliminating anonymous sperm donation, and there is little evidence that this necessarily affects donation patterns.

According to Blyth and Frith (2008), there is no consistent relationship between identity release policies for sperm donors and international sperm donation trends. In jurisdictions where donations have decreased, the decline can either be encouraged or reversed by clinics' recruitment efforts.

There is also growing evidence that most egg donors are willing to have their identity disclosed to indented parents and their offspring. Craft (2005) found that 63 per cent of previous egg donors surveyed would still have donated if their identity had to be known to child and 52 per cent would donate again if identify had to be known to child. Likewise, a review by Yee, Blyth & Tsang (2011) determined that most studies find the majority of donors favour disclosure and would not object to future contact with offspring resulting from their donation. In addition, in their own research, 67 per cent of donors interviewed preferred disclosure, while only 50 per cent of donors assumed this was the case.

The problem for Canadians looking for egg donors is that many of the egg banks do not yet offer open ID donor programs and this causes a bit of an ethical dilemma. Should these individuals, desperate for a child, and without other options, not proceed with what is often the most accessible and affordable means of getting a donated egg because their hypothetical child may want to know the identity of his or her biological mother?

Whose rights should be given priority, the rights of the parents or the rights of a future child? This is currently an ethical dilemma that counsellors like myself, in the infertility field, face when working with clients in this position. Until laws change and the availability of open ID egg donors increases, what are these parents to do?