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Family Building with Donor Gametes: New Families, New Issues and International Perspectives

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Please find a summary of the recent Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) Law Symposium below. The flier from the event can be found here. Any questions about this event or blog posting can be directed to

On 17 April 2013 the O’Neil Institute for Global Health Law and Georgetown University Law School hosted a symposium that considered family building with donor gametes. The focus of the symposium was new families formed as a result of using donor gametes, the issues such family formation raise (such as information release to donor conceived people, what makes a parent, and what makes a family). International and national perspectives on information release to donor conceived people were discussed.

The moderator, Adjunct Professor Susan Crockin introduced the panel noting that assisted reproductive technology has greatly impacted family building as we know it. Anovulatory women, sterile men, single parents, and same-sex couples all look to donor gametes, and potentially surrogacy, to build biologically connected families. The growing use of such technology raises important social, legal and ethical issues including growing issues of how to recognize such families, and how to impart information to donor-conceived people.

Sonia Allan, Ph.D., discussed release of information to donor-conceived people. A brief history of gamete donation and anonymity was given, emphasizing that the focus in the past has been upon recipient parents, donors and the clinics/doctors involved in the process and social, ethical and legal issues that encouraged secrecy. Dr Allan noted however that there has been greater emphasis in some countries for openness, and focus upon the offspring. She gave an overview of countries that require non-anonymous donation; methods of information release (registers; clinic based); trends and further developments. She discussed jurisdictions including a number of states in Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Victoria, Australia was discussed as an example of a jurisdiction in which the law since 2010, requires that donor conceived offspring be notified of their status via an addendum to their birth certificates. Victoria and New South Wales, are now also considering whether all donor conceived offspring should have access to information about their donors regardless of when they were conceived. The advantages and disadvantages of register versus clinic-based information were discussed.

The second speaker, Sonia Suter, MS, JD followed with an overview of US law on resolving parentage issues involving gamete donation and surrogacy.  Her talk addressed some of the presumptions and gendered assumptions that underlie determinations of legal parentage as the law tries to sort out parentage in the face of complicated ART arrangements. Interesting comparisons were made by considering various U.S. state decisions concerning legal parentage in instances of sperm donation and surrogacy. Issues were highlighted concerning how genetic and gestational parents are viewed. Inconsistencies in views dependent upon the type of assisted reproduction being utilized and whether the focus was egg donor, sperm donor or surrogate, were highlighted.

Andrea Braverman, PhD., gave a psychosocial perspective of the ‘new family’. Dr. Braverman highlighted that family is thought of as a social concept rather than a genetic concept. Nevertheless, there are now genetic, social and gestational ways of becoming a parent. Multiple choices are available for the method of conceiving a child. Multiple uses of language now apply to how a ‘mother’ or a ‘father’ may be defined. Similarly, language has changed about how ‘donors’ are referred to. ‘Things shift’ in terms of what we think of as a family. Things also shift as to how we perceive the role of the donor. Importantly, things shift over a person’s lifetime. The major shift recently has been to think about what the new family formation means for individuals within them. Dr. Braverman highlighted that this is varies across families, and that there is no ‘one’ answer for all. The importance of genetic versus social kinship is a deeply personal thing, and there are many factors that interplay when people consider who they think of as ‘family’.

Stephen H. Pool, PhD., Director of Fairfax Cryobank, closed with an important and interesting insight into sperm donor practices in the United States. He discussed anonymous versus open identity option donation in the U.S. giving a sperm bank perspective. He highlighted that the demand for open identity option donation has increased in the U.S. however that there is still a demand for anonymous sperm donation. Dr. Pool showed interesting statistics from the cryobank in which approximately a third of heterosexual and same-sex couples still state they would prefer anonymous donation if given a choice. A higher number of single women said they preferred open ID sperm. Dr. Pool gave insight into how both anonymous and open ID donation takes place and the sort of information and practices that accompany both. He highlighted that with anonymous donation in the U.S. sometimes extensive information is available including silhouettes, voice recordings, photos, written essays, as well as medical, educational and person details (interests, family background). He closed by stating as more offspring come forward and we move into the future we may see further changes, but that currently in the U.S. both anonymous and open I.D. donation will continue to take place.

 An interesting and informative question and answer session ensued.

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