This report is part two of a three-part series on assisted human reproduction in Canada. Part one can be found here.
You may not have heard of Robert Reid. But doctors heralded his arrival on December 25, 1983 as our first made-in-Canada test-tube baby.  Reid was conceived using his own parent’s egg and sperm, but thousands of babies have been created since then using sperm from an anonymous donor. To those working in fertility centers—doctors and researchers—their lives are evidence of a successful treatment. But some of these young adults are now thinking through their conception, and question the ethics of the technology that brought them into the world.
Donor insemination (DI) is not new; it has been around for over a century. Couples typically turned to DI after discovering that the male partner is infertile—it offered parents a chance to give birth to a child who would be the biological offspring of one of the parents (the mother). Although parents are encouraged to tell their children they are donor conceived, the rest of their origins have typically remained a mystery because sperm donation in Canada is anonymous.  While some argue that donor anonymity is in the best interests of the donor and the child, many born through this practice are claiming otherwise.
Take Olivia Pratten, for instance. Pratten was conceived in a fertility clinic in Vancouver BC in 1983. She says that from an early age she always had questions about her donor: What he looks like or does. Not only will Olivia not know the identity of her biological father because sperm donation is anonymous in Canada, but also because her records were apparently lost. The clinic where she was conceived closed down and she believes her records are gone, if they ever existed. 
This leads to a major concern: Fertility clinics are not obligated to maintain any donor records according to current Canadian law, neither are they obligated to keep records of children conceived by donor sperm. This is why it is impossible to know how many donor-conceived children there are in Canada, says Roger Pierson, Director of the Reproductive Biology Research unit at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine. 
In 2004, a national donor registry was legislated with the passage of Canada’s Human Assisted Reproduction Act, but it does not yet exist. The regulations for the registry still need to be written by Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC), Canada’s new agency. Therefore, it is still unknown what types of information will be available to DI kids.  For instance, will donor offspring have access to donor medical records to check for genetically transmitted diseases?  Will they have access to their donor’s anonymous ID number so they can track down other half-siblings with the same donor?  Or, although highly unlikely, could they be given as much as a name and phone number so they can actually contact their donor? These questions are still unanswered.
Sweden, for example, has made “open identity” sperm donors mandatory. These donors must provide information to their offspring once they reach age 18, should the children want it.  Again, it is unknown whether Canada’s registry will adopt similar legislation where donors can choose to be contacted by their offspring once the child grows up.
Some feel that denying children the right to half of their genetic history is unethical. Diane Allen, co-founder of the Toronto-based Infertility Network, has offered support and information to donor offspring and their parents for the past 17 years. She has observed some offspring who are not bothered by the ‘unknowns’ of their past, and others who are deeply distressed that they are missing “50% of the pieces of the puzzle that make up who they are.” She doesn’t think this should be left up to governments or clinics to decide for these adults “what they can and cannot know about themselves.” And she has also met some offspring who want to see the end of donor-conception, all told. 
A report entitled The Revolution of Parenthood: the Emerging Global Clash between Adult Rights and Children’s Needs states that some DI adults are upset that their parents “intentionally planned to deny them a relationship (and often knowledge of the identity of) at least one of their biological parents” even before they were conceived. The author, Elizabeth Marquardt, who is studying the effect of donor conception on children’s identity, says that while these children may grow up knowing that they are loved and wanted by their parents, “as children grow up and begin to form their own identities, they tell us, it is also essential to know where they came from.” 
This is true for Olivia Pratten. In a presentation to MPs at the IMFC’s first annual policy conference in September 2006, Pratten said, “I suppose at one point when I’m 40, 50, 60 I’ll know that he isn’t around anymore and maybe then I’ll stop looking for his face - I don’t know.” In the mean time, she wonders if she’ll see glimpses of ‘him’ on the faces of her future children or if she has perhaps already met ‘him,’ without even knowing it. 
How DI kids feel shouldn’t be the only basis for public policy decisions, but Assisted Human Reproduction Canada would do well to heed the advice of DI adults and those working in the field who have seen that DI is a whole lot more than just a technological success: it’s a human life.
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