July 8, 2008

Research Suggests Informing Donor Children At Early Age

New research suggests children conceived with sperm donors should be made aware of the fact at an early age. 

The British researchers, from Cambridge University, spoke with 165 children conceived through sperm donations, and found those told of the fact at age 18 or older felt anger and shock.

The study is one of the first in comparing the opinions of donor insemination offspring who were told of their origins during childhood with those who learned after reaching adulthood.

The study involved offspring aged 13 to 61, all of whom were listed on the U.S. Donor Sibling Registry, which assists offspring in finding their biological parents and siblings. A majority of the study's participants live in the U.S., with 2% living in the UK. All were asked to complete an online questionnaire.

The results showed around 60% of those raised in single parent or same-sex parent families were told about their origins prior to the age of three, compared with just 9% of children of heterosexual parents. One-in-three children of heterosexual parents were told of their origin after they turned 18.

Donor offspring who were told after the age of three were then asked how they felt when they discovered how they were conceived. Those too young to recall their response were excluded from this question.

The results found that the earlier a person was told, the better, with over two thirds of those told over age 18 feeling confused, compared to only one third of those told when they were aged four to 11. Similar differences were observed in the numbers who reported feeling betrayed or anger, numbness and shock at having been misled.

One UK-based patient group encouraged parents to be forthcoming with their children right from the start. However, a European reproductive health conference warned that once children know of their origins, they might wish to seek out their biological parent.

"I would have appreciated revelation of this information much earlier in my life," said a 30-year-old woman who learned how she was conceived in her late teens.

"Learning of my biological identity at 17 years of age was a traumatic event," she told BBC News.

However, a 13-year-old who was told at age four told BBC News: "I was so young I don't remember feeling much more than interested and curious."

"It appears it is better for children to be told about their donor conception at an early age," Dr Vasanti Jadva of the Center for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, told BBC News.

"This finding is in line with research on adoption, which also shows that children benefit from early disclosure about the circumstances of their birth," she said.

Dr. Jadva also said it was critical to recognize that informing children might trigger curiosity about their biological parent.

"We advocate openness from the beginning, from before a child reaches five," Olivia Montuschi of the UK's Donor Conception Network told BBC News.

"We even encourage talking to babies about how they were conceived, not because they will understand, but so that parents can practice talking about the issue and get used to the language they want to use."

"If parents do it this way, there is no big revelation. It just becomes one of the things a child knows about itself," she said.

The study was presented to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Barcelona.


On the Net:

Donor Conception Network

European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology