15 November 2004
Sperm Donor Study Reassuring For All
by George Atkinson
In the world's first study to examine the feelings and experiences of adolescents who had been conceived through 'open-identity' sperm donors, that is donors who allow their identities to be given to adult offspring, US researchers found that all but one of the 29 young people involved in the study had a neutral or positive response to their origins. More than 4 out of 5 said they were likely to ask for the donor's identity and try to contact him, but few saw him as being an important person in their lives and not one reported wanting any money from him. The top question the young people wanted answered was what's he like? Of the 83% who wanted to know their donor's identity and to contact him, the motive for the majority was curiosity about him and, for many, the chance to see if it would help them to learn more about themselves.
"While it appeared that the children were very curious and eager to learn more about their donor, they were also concerned about respecting his privacy and not intruding on his life. This finding indicates that the stereotypical concern of offspring showing up on the donor's doorstep is inaccurate and does not reflect the intentions of the actual youths going through the identity-release process," said lead researcher Dr Joanna Scheib.
Dr Scheib said the study, appearing in European journal Human Reproduction, was important because little research is available about the experiences of donor insemination families who have open-identity donors and no research up to now has involved adolescents who are nearing the age when their biological father's identity can be released to them. "What this study has done is to indicate that when youth are told of their conception origins early and have the option to learn more about their donor when they reach adulthood, they express a normal, healthy curiosity about the donor that reflects an interest in learning more about themselves. They are not looking for a father in their donor. If anything, they want something like an 'older friend' relationship."
Other findings in the study included:
- Almost all were comfortable sharing their origins with those close to them, including extended family members, some friends and a few teachers.
- In addition to interest in their donor, they expressed interest in contacting other children with the same donor.
- The presence of two parents, whether heterosexual or lesbian, seemed to dampen interest in the donors.
- In response to questions about their vision of an ideal donor, the message that came through was that they hoped he was a good, open-minded person who would be open to contact and not necessarily be heavily involved in their life.
- Although almost all planned to obtain their donor's identity, they would not necessarily do so at 18 - the age that they would be entitled to have the information.
"A growing number of DI programmes offer the option, as in the US, of open-identity donors. In Sweden, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, the law actually requires open identity and the UK will also require it from April 2005. Although this is a small study, its findings are reassuring in relation to the youths' well-being and also reassuring for the donors," said Dr Scheib.