Science versus rights: the debate on donor anonymity

2014 ESHRE 2014 conference summit meeting Munich 29 - 02 July

Petra De Sutter

Monday saw a very interesting debate between Petra Thorn and Wybo Dondorp on donor anonymity. In many countries, donor anonymity has been abolished, while in others it still remains very much the norm.

According to Petra Thorn, donor anonymity and secrecy are concepts from the past, the results of anxiety, stigma and shame. These concepts, said Petra, belong to a paternalistic medical system which is no longer appropriate. That has begun to change, even if slowly – for example in the UK and Scandinavia … and today there is less stigma, more information, and peer support gamete donation. Petra added that where donor anonymity has been abolished, numbers of donors have not decreased; indeed, parents and children feel less distressed and the debate has shifted from the interests of parents, donors and doctors to those of the children.

Wybo Dondorp developed arguments in favour of parental choice, by which mandatory anonymity needs not simply be replaced by mandatory open identity. The question is, whether not knowing the identity of the donor is harmful for the child – and there really is no evidence for this. Yes, many children are curious and want to know more about their donor, but is this curiosity sufficient for an absolute right? Going even further, Wybo provocatively argued that compulsory open identity may even be an infringement of reproductive autonomy … and since there are very few scientific studies, we don’t yet know whether open identity donors may be more harmful to the children than anonymity.

I still don’t know who is right. Listening to the different arguments pro and contra is like comparing apples and pears. Or as Jacky Boivin sitting next to me said: it is a science-based versus a rights-based discussion, and in that case the rights-based approach always wins …

 Petra De Sutter,  Member of ESHRE Executive Committee

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