Donor conception: ethical issues

April 24, 2013
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics produces one or two authoritative reports each year

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics produces one or two authoritative reports each year

In April 2013 the Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report on the ethics of donor conception. Their reflections focused specifically on ethical aspects of information sharing: if donor-conceived individuals should be told about their origins and, if so, when and how this knowledge should be passed on. Their conclusions, summarised here, are grouped into four categories:

  • policy affecting potential parents;
  • policy affecting parents and donor-conceived people during childhood and adulthood;
  • policy affecting donor-conceived adults who do not have access to information (there were significant changes in UK legislation relating to anonymity and record keeping in both 1991 and 2005); and
  • Policy affecting donors.

In an illuminating blog post, Dr Rhona Knight, Chair of the Working Party, unpacks some of the thinking that went into the Council’s ultimate recommendations. Concerned about the potentially adversarial tone of discussion “rights”, the report instead focuses on “interests”. A variety of stakeholders are identified, including the nurturing parents, the genetic parent and the child themselves. The latter might be interested in knowing the fact that they are donor-conceived and about their genetic heritage, particularly as it might relate to any potential health issues.

As regular users of BioethicsBytes will know, our major focus is on multimedia resources to help in teaching about bioethics. In this regard, here are a number of online videos that may be useful.

1. Ethical issues regarding donor conception

This short film picks up on a broader range of issues associated with donor conception (CoI disclaimer: this video is produced by some of my students)

2. Sperm donor has over 70 kids

This two-handed studio discussion focuses on the lack of regulation in the USA which has led to various individuals being the biological father to dozens of children. Their discussion includes contrasting with the situation in the UK where there is tighter regulation.

3. “You’re not my mother!”

This clip more closely aligns with the issues raised in the Nuffield report. Helane Rosenberg relates an incident when her daughter used the fact she is not her genetic mother as an angry response to having a request to watch TV snubbed.

If you have any other suggestions of videos for teaching about ethics and donor conception I’d be happy to consider them for addition to this list.

Bioethics videos: Class of 2011

June 13, 2011

For the past few years, Second year Medical Biochemistry students at the University of Leicester (and Medics taking the relevant module as a special studies course) have been asked to produce short videos on a bioethical topic. It seemed a shame not to make their excellent videos more widely available, so we’ve started to post some to YouTube. Topics covered this time around included: organ trading, egg donation, brain imaging and public health initiatives.

The team looking at the ethics of organ trading based their video around a woman seeking a privately-organised transplant for her daughter. This issue is highly topical at the moment, with the recent publication of Scott Carney’s book The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers.


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The Family Man – playing God at the fertility clinic?

June 23, 2008

The Family Man – Dr Patrick Stowe  

(Warning: contains plot spoilers!) The Family Man is a three part BBC 1 drama centred on the successful (fictional) ‘Wishart Fertility Clinic’. The patriarch of the clinic is Dr Patrick Stowe (Trevor Eve) whom is driven by pursuit of better ways to help distressed couples have a child. The drama follows four couples facing a spectrum of fertility problems. In an attempt to fulfil their dreams, they turn to Dr Stowe to help find the answers. At times this tests the legal parameters of fertility treatment in the United Kingdom, and as such raises a whole raft of bioethical issues.

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