Human gamete donation: how to best balance the rights between parents, donors and children?

“The principle of the anonymity of human gamete donors is today put into question by changes in society and in certain European legal instruments and by the evolution of genetic technology,” said Petra De Sutter (Belgium, SOC), at the opening of a hearing in Lisbon on this issue. “On the legal side, there is a clear tendency towards gradual recognition of the right to know one’s origins,” added Ms De Sutter, whose introductory memorandum was declassified by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

Carla Maria Pinho Rodrigues, President of the National Council of Medically Assisted Procreation, described the situation in Portugal following the April 2018 decision of the Constitutional Court (1) which established the right of donor-conceived persons to know their genetic identity and gamete donors. She recalled that the 2006 Portuguese law was already used to allow genetic identity to be revealed, but not civil identity. “The question for parliament is now about handling the transition,” she said, calling on the Portuguese Parliament to legislate on gamete donation as soon as possible to safeguard the rights of all concerned.

Miguel Oliveira Da Silva, member of the Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe, presented his opinion on the developments in Portugal since the Court decision and underlined the need for a large, informed citizen debate, without “mediatic stress”, before parliament legislates. “An essential question is not our choices or our emotions – it is what donor-conceived children themselves want: a vast majority wants the “right to know”.

Donor-conceived Christophe Masle (from France), who has created an association of donor-conceived persons to discuss a third way of making non-identifying information available, was not in favour of lifting anonymity. “This important debate should be evidence-based; arguments should not be based on myths around risks of genetically-created illnesses or blood relations marrying,” he added, recalling the figure of 70 000 donor-conceived children in France alone.

Donor-conceived Joanna Rose (from the United Kingdom) campaigns for the lifting of donor anonymity: “Access to the donor’s identity is a fundamental aspect of the child’s identity building,” she said, regretting that industry representatives were represented on committees and bodies, not donor-conceived persons. “A paradigm shift is needed in reproductive technology, from adult centric ‘treatment’ to applying normative standards for protecting the best interests of the child”, she stressed.

An anonymous donor (from France) testified that it was necessary to go with the time: “it is not 1972 anymore”, he said, referring to the year when he donated his sperm anonymously.

(1) Portugal's Constitutional Court held that anonymous gamete donations were unconstitutional, thereby changing the legal situation regarding donations in Portugal and conferring force of law on the right of access to one’s genetic origins.