Children who are conceived with an egg or sperm donor should have the right to know their biological origins. The quest for this knowledge is really a quest to know themselves. In the same way governments once moved toward eliminating the presumption of anonymity from adoption rules, they must now reform laws around egg and sperm donation, and acknowledge the importance of this issue to donor-conceived offspring. Any changes, however, should not be applied retroactively.
Currently in Canada, the law guiding this complex aspect of assisted human reproduction is unclear. Provincial fertility clinics collect the medical history of egg and sperm donors, but under federal legislation, donors are not required to give up confidentiality.
This leaves donor-conceived offspring in the dark, forced to fight expensive and time-consuming legal battles when they become adults and inevitably start to ask questions about their life narrative. One such battle is under way in British Columbia, where the government is appealing a lower court ruling that found a woman named Olivia Pratton, conceived in 1982 at a Vancouver fertility clinic, had the legal right to know the identity of the sperm donor. The government argued this month in court that it has no constitutional obligation to include donor-conceived offspring in the Adoption Act, and accord them the same rights to know their biological parentage.
Research shows that depriving children of the ability to access their genetic backgrounds can cause them psychological harm. Much less likely, they could inadvertently end up in a romantic relationship with a half-sibling. The experience of hiding the truth from adoptive children has shown how destructive family secrets can be.
Other countries have already moved forward; in Australia, the U.K., and Sweden, all egg and sperm donors must now agree to disclose their identities. There are national registries to ensure that donor-conceived offspring can access the information when they come of age, even if clinics close and records are lost.
In Canada, the regulatory framework is complicated by the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down parts of the Assisted Human Reproductive Act in 2010, ruling it is up to the provinces to regulate fertility clinics. It left in place a ban on paying donors, and other elements in the act, including those governing the use of human embryos in stem-cell research. But there are regulatory voids.
It is time for Ottawa to work with the provinces to bring clarity to this important aspect of assisted reproduction, and ensure that the best interests of all donor-conceived offspring are taken into account.
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