Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Why do you want to know the identity of your donor?"

When asked the question "Why do you want to know the identity of your donor?", twenty-five year old Lauren Burns from Melbourne, Australia responded with this:


"Donating sperm is not equivalent to donating blood. It is used to create a person who inherits half of their genetic identity from the donor. In a sense the identity of the donor is information that also rightly belongs to the child because it is a part of them. Legal parentage is a fairly flimsy premise that can be easily extinguished with the enactment of law. However genetic links are not so easily severed. The children of donors are as closely linked to them, genetically, as their own beloved children. If you could imagine your own feelings at the birth of your children, you can probably understand the significance of the genetic link. 

I think most people understand this signifance. It is why we trace our family histories. It is why audiences instinctively understand the magnitude of the revelation in Star Wars when Darth Vader tells Luke he is his father.

Personally, I have had an interest in flying since i was a small child, and subsequently got my pilots licence and studied Aeronautical engineering. Both my parents are teachers of economics and accounting. I wonder if the donor shares my fascination with flying and spaceflight. When i lived in Germany for 6 months people constantly assumed i was of German or Dutch extraction. I would like to be able to answer their enquiries with a definite yes or no. I would like to know my siblings. I have never had a brother, now I find out I have two. I would like to know what a boy version of me might look like.

Some donor offspring claim a "curiosity" about their donor. However, i believe this word is carefully chosen to protect their social families, because curiosities can be trivialised. Many donor children self-censor the importance of knowing the identity of their genetic parents because their natural instinct is the protect their social parents, especially the non-biological one.

Formally it could be summed up that the absence of half of my genetic identity leads to a sense of loss and psychological distress based on;

a) lack of medical history, genetic precursors to certain illnesses, potential matches for tissue donation;

b) denial of knowledge about cultural heritage, nationality, religion;

c) denial of knowledge about half siblings, unwitting contact with biological relatives;

d) distress to me arising from the knowledge that information about my natural father and siblings exists, but is being denied to me by the state;

However it is more than that. It is interesting that in almost every other situation society strongly encourages fathers to be part of their children's lives, and those who refuse to have anything to do with their children are labelled deadbeat dads, yet in this exception it is the exact opposite. Sometimes i feel labelled a "deadbeat child" for wanting to know the identity of my biological father, because I might upset or inconvenience him. However i believe this fear of upsetting past donors is largely an assumption and counsellors i have spoken to who worked to track down past donors and link them with their children have told me the vast majority had a positive outlook on their donor children. 

In any case, the discrimination and distress suffered by the child is commensurately far greater than any inconvenience a past donor may feel if he does not wish to be contacted. I find it humiliating that in denying me this information, people allude to the fact that the discovery of my existence might be upsetting, beyond that of the discrimination which i experience. I find the donor interesting, and i hope, if they got to know me, they may also find me an interesting person. Perhaps they may even feel some pride in the achievements i have managed during my life. Also, it must be recognised that the child is the innocent victim, who did not choose, or agree to be in this situation, whereas the donor always knew he was creating a child and a reasonable person would realise the significance of helping create a child.

Some people, and i believe you also asked me this question in our interview, ask whether offspring may want money, or an inheritance from the donor. I find this argument ridiculous, because the donor is explictly not the legal parent and thus protected from these claims. It is actually the donor who has financially benefitted from the child, because donors were paid quite a significant amount of money by the clinics (roughly equivalent to a weeks rent for a student). Some people refer to their donors as "vendors" because donation implies giving something away for nothing, when in fact they were paid. Some people even interpret this to mean they were sold. 

I am not seeking a parental figure. Rather, I want information that will remove discrimination (such as unknown medical history) and atone for the blankness in my identity by seeing my physical and personality traits reflected in someone with whom I share close genetic links. 

I hope this helps, or perhaps it will just leave you feeling more confused. I have no idea how you are going to sum this up in a short article. Good luck!"

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