Sperm donation children may face emotional trauma

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Children born through anonymous sperm donation face life-long emotional problems with personal identity, confusion and mistrust within the family, psychologists have found.

Children born through anonymous sperm donation face life-long emotional problems with personal identity, confusion and mistrust within the family, psychologists have found.

Two studies published today in the Journal of Human Reproduction highlight the growing concern about the long-term consequences of children born by fertility treatment using anonymous genetic donors, and the right of children to know their true origins and the identities of their biological fathers.

In Britain, children do not have a legal right to know they were conceived by donor insemination or any means of tracing their biological fathers.

Ministers are investigating whether children fathered by donor insemination (DI) should be given the same right to trace their genetic fathers as adopted children were in the 1970s and are looking at proposals to have a separate birth register so that children will automatically know how they were conceived.

The latest study, conducted at the University of Surrey, involved 16 adults from Britain, America, Canada and Australia who knew they had been conceived by DI. The researchers used structured questionnaires to discover what effect the knowledge had on their lives.

"Although there was little in common about the time, the place or the way that the participants learnt of their background, many reported feeling shocked. It was clear that some felt their whole identity was threatened," said Amanda Turner, a counselling psychologist and co-author of the study.

"The right to know their genetic origin was a common theme with all but one of the participants and many had recourse to fantasy about their donor fathers as a 'coping strategy'," she said.

Most of those who took part in the study had tried to trace their biological fathers and were frustrated by the secrecy that surrounded their origins.

One participant said: "How could doctors think that we wouldn't need or want some honest answers about our heritage? Without all this information, I will never feel complete."

In a second study, researchers from Sweden found that 90 per cent of parents had not told their children they had been conceived using DI. Only half intended to comply with the country's law by telling their children about their genetic origins. Six out of 10 couples had told someone else and 30 per cent had told many people, increasing the risk of their child hearing from other sources.

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