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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
'Shock' of sperm donor babies
Insemination
Only non-identifying information about donors is given in the UK
Mothers who use donated sperm to have a baby are being urged to tell their children how they were conceived.

A study carried out by British psychologists at the University of Surrey has found that children who are not told how they were conceived are at risk of having mental health problems.

The study looked at the cases of 16 people from the UK, the USA, Australia and Canada who had not been told they were donor insemination (DI) babies until they were adults.

It found that a lack of information on how they were conceived led many people to feel threatened.

'Life based on a lie'

Counselling psychologist Amanda Turner who led the study said: "Although there was little in common about the time, the place or the way that the participants learned of their background, many reported feeling shocked.

"It was clear that some felt their whole identity was threatened."

One woman said she felt that her entire life was based on a lie and was furious with her mother for dying with this secret.

Ms Turner said many people had questions about the identity of their father.

"The right to know their genetic origin was a common theme with all but one of the participants and many had recourse to fantasy about their donor fathers as a coping strategy."


It was clear that some felt their whole identity was threatened

Amanda Turner, counselling psychologist

All 16 had made initial inquiries about searching for their donor "fathers". Their inability to find him caused a sense of loss.

Many said they felt "unwanted" or were born as a result of a mere medical procedure.

Insights

Ms Turner said the study had identified some insights into the psychological problems facing the off-spring of sperm donors.

"A consistent finding was the negative and ongoing effects of keeping secrets. This supports research that suggests secrecy in families is damaging and that children pick up hidden clues," she said.

"It was also clear that these donor offspring perceived a sense of abandonment of responsibility by their donor fathers and the medical profession.

"They expressed a need and a right to know who their donor fathers are and, if possible, to have some sort of relationship with them.

Illegal

"It seems that for these donor off-spring 'non-identifying' information might not be sufficient to meet their needs," she added.

It is illegal in most countries for donor inseminated children to be told the identity of their parents.

Sweden was the first country in the world to regulate DI by law in 1985. Austria and some Australian states now have similar laws.

Norway has introduced legislation protecting the identity of sperm donors while in the UK information only non-identifying data can be revealed to the child.

The study is published in the latest issue of the journal Human Reproduction.

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See also:

31 Dec 99 | Health
IVF 'no better than insemination'
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
Donating eggs and sperm
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