Health: A donor is not a `real' dad

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The Independent Culture
THE GOVERNMENT'S desire to give children conceived using anonymous sperm donation the right to track down their biological fathers has alarmed many people.

The proposal has not only made some men panic at the thought of 10 children knocking on their door in years to come, but it has also affected women looking for potential husbands.

Twice in the last fortnight I have heard conversations between people who have just met that have veered swiftly from "What do you do for a living?" to "Have you ever given sperm? No? Not even as a student? Are you sure?"

I have known several men who admitted to giving sperm. One, when I was at college, would go off sniggering every week to the local sperm donation point to collect his pounds 15 "money for nothing" fee to fuel his Friday nights in the pub.

It will be a blessing for mankind if his sperm was used for research rather than reproduction. Although on paper he was 6ft tall, and destined for a first, in reality he was a hard-drinking, drug-taking bore.

The other gave sperm after he realised in his late twenties that he was gay. His reasoning was that this was the only way he could pass on his genes, and his were too good to waste.

After several visits to the clinic, he was tactfully told not to return as there had already been 10 live births produced from his sperm, the legal limit imposed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Shocked that he was the father of 10 children, he is now neurotic about meeting his children in the street.

Giving test-tube children the retrospective right to trace biological parents has been called a gross breach of trust. Many men say they would not have given sperm if they had thought the law would change.

But the scenario of thousands of children trying to contact their real fathers just won't happen, because the reality is that most of the 29,000 children born in Britain so far from donated sperm or eggs have no idea that the man they call father is not their "biological" father. It is believed that fewer than than one in 10 know about their true genetic heritage.

No one wants to deny infertile couples the chance to have a child by reducing the number of donors. However, removing anonymity is unlikely to have a long-term effect. In the year 2006 or 2007, when the first children born after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 become of age, their right to know who their genetic father or mother is surely morally justified.

However, in a society where family structures are increasingly complex, let's hope these children will realise that it is their "social" parents, the people who have loved them all their lives, who count, rather than the man who, for a small fee, went into a cubicle to help pay off his credit card.

Jeremy Laurance is on holiday