Donor Conceived [Sperm/Egg/Embryo] Children Deserve to have Access to Genetic Histories

As families discover the unique adoption choice of embryo adoption, many are surprised to learn that embryo adoption agencies advocate the use of an open adoption model. At first couples may be concerned that openness = sharing parental responsibilities. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The dangers of closed adoptions or anonymous donations were recently in the spotlight after adoptees in Australia learned that their records had been tampered with by the medical staff at a fertility clinic, effectively putting a roadblock on their search for their biological fathers who made sperm donations at the clinic in the 1980’s. The result is that these now-adult-children won’t be able to learn more about their genetic histories, including medical information that could be vital to them both now and later in life, as well as missing out on cultural heritage and information on other siblings who might be living.

In the United States frozen human embryos are considered property, not people, and therefore the legal process used for embryo donation [and adoption] is contract law, an exchange of property. The first embryo adoption program in the world established by Nightlight Christian Adoptions Snowflakes Program determined that people with remaining embryos should be able to choose the family receiving their embryo donation.

The resulting child[ren], donor and adopting families all benefit from the legally regulated best practices of adoption. This means an open adoption model is encouraged and agencies keep permanent records of all embryo adoption matches. As demonstrated by the situation in Australia, the approach helps all parties involved be informed about medical history and genetic background. Moreover, it gives adoptees a sense of connection to their heritage and background, and gives them a chance to connect with biological siblings. Children of closed or anonymous donations may spend years wondering about their own heritage, and if they have other biological family members. Open adoption also advocates for telling children about their unique family origins – no secrets!

Embryo adoption programs allow the genetic and adoptive families to mutually agree upon the level of openness between the families. Families may have the agency act as an intermediary between them, passing along news and photos. Other families email each other, or have closed groups on Facebook to keep each other updated. Families may even become friends and vacation together! Any of these options are preferable to meeting the kind of roadblock donor conceived children are facing throughout the world. Anonymous donations are done for the convenience of the adults. An open model meets the needs of the child, now and in the future.

One of the women involved in the case in Australia, Dr. Laura Burns, only found her father after a four year search that led her to the treating doctor, who used his own records to discover the man’s identity. Burns says that “knowing who you are should not depend on the good will of a doctor,” and she advocates for legislation that will allow children to learn the names of their donors. While her situation ended with the discovery of her father and information on her heritage, millions of other adoptees won’t be so lucky. Hopefully Dr. Burns’ story will inspire other adoption agencies, both for embryo adoption and traditional adoption, to start following an open model for the ultimate benefit of the children, donor, and adoptive parents.

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