Thursday, July 20, 2006

My very brief story:

My very brief story:

I was conceived 33yrs ago at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1973 as a product of donated sperm making me a member of what I like to call the Donated Generation. My father who raised me passed away when I was 10, and this remains as the single most devastating event in my life. My mother remarried from which I have a “half” brother. I am currently married with two children of my own, a daughter who is 2 years and a son who is only 4 months old.

I am a medical researcher with a strong background in the biological sciences including genetics. I have also worked for and with clinicians who are involved in reproductive technologies and or the obstetrics and gynaecological fields. I feel that this career path has shaped my perspectives on the issues of donor conception.

I have always known about my conception and I consider myself very lucky to have been told from an early age. It did not change the love I had for my father and it made it easier to deal with and accept as it was always a part of my life and is not something that I all of a sudden had to come to terms with. As a child my father was my father, it did not matter that we were not biologically related. I was always too busy being a child than to stress over my origins. While I was always interested, it was never an overriding concern.

The family unit is recognized as the greatest factor in our lives. It is important to recognize that sociological and biological fathers can be two separate things. And while a family is what you make of it, there is however a basis to the phrase “blood is thicker than water”. Genetic connectedness, are ties that bind and is a factor that needs to be addressed more closely when analyzing ART.

It is this genetic connection that I have been trying to locate during a 15 year search for information. It started off as a search for non-identifying information and to obtain a family health history. At one point it would have been of great benefit to have had a family health background to help assess a condition that I had. During this time I have encountered numerous brickwalls and hurdles. The fertility units that I contacted over several years provided differing accounts on my records, with them being lost, being destroyed or of unknown location. This was very frustrating as was their answering or not answering of certain questions I posed to them. Only through contact with individuals that were conducting the practice at the time was I able to track down my mother’s treatment records. These documents contained a donor code, but no records to link this code to a donor. Apparently, donor records were not kept.

While I started off searching for non-identifying information as I at one time agreed with anonymity – I have now changed my perspective and I wish to know who this person is. This view changed after the birth of my daughter. It was a moment not too dissimilar to the moments that parents often report experiencing when they hold their child for the first time and stare into their baby’s eyes. It was an acceptance and knowledge of a biological connection. That no matter what might happen in the world, we would always be father and daughter. No one or no thing would ever be able to change this. This biological connection made me think about how I would feel if my daughter grew up not knowing who I was. This was a concept I could not bear to think about, but instead I applied it to how this notion did in fact mirror my own life. While events transpired that I do not know who my donor is, and I may never know, there will always be a biological connection that can never be broken.

I believe genetics are an important part of our identity with research showing a link between many personal traits and the parents. It also gives a link to a family history, who we are, where we are from. The nature versus nurture balance that has previously been argued is moving towards nature all the time as we realise what an important part genetic inheritance has in our lives.

For myself personally it will complete the picture of who I am. Half of myself is missing and it is difficult to put into words how this information would affect me, but it is something that I am also trying to do for my children so that they too can know who they are. It is something that has become increasingly pressing since their birth.

As a health issue it would also allow me to take precautions against any hereditary diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.

I do not wish to invade the donor's private life. I don’t need another father, another family, money or emotional support from him. These are things I already have. I would just like an opportunity to find out who I am. With the key word being opportunity, as currently I have none.

I recognize that his donation may be a secret from his own family and one that may adversely impact on his family. I do not wish to burst this bubble. Just as I have a half brother from my mother’s second marriage, I too may have half siblings from his own family or even from other donations.
It would be nice to think that all siblings should have the right to know of each others existence even if they do not wish to meet.

When ART was started they did not fully understand the psychosocial implications particularly from the perspective of the child. The donated generation can go through the exact same psychological issues of identity as do adopted children yet adopted children are catered for via legislation and are entitled to know their parents identity but donated children do not. This can be corrected by moving to an identifiable system (at least it would be there even if not required because the child may not want to know who their donor is). Measures should also be put in place to aid those already affected through the use of a voluntary register. As it is voluntary it does not infringe on anyone’s rights to privacy.

The rights of the donor is often overlooked and is something that I am also concerned about being a father myself. People’s attitudes may change with time and they may no longer wish to remain anonymous. They may be open to disclosure of more information or even contact but the current system does not facilitate this. The donor should be able to know that the child is healthy and well cared for.

And while I may find it difficult to call my donor by the word father as this is the name I give to the man who raised me. I still like to consider myself as someone’s son.

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