Posts Tagged ‘open-identity’
As discussed in a previous blog, the embryo donor really sets the stage regarding disclosure. They either can choose Anonymous procedures, perhaps with the option of Open-Identity at some later date, or an Open Embryo Donation process. Let’s assume that an Open Embryo Donation process will legally stipulate the issue of disclosure. If Anonymous, however, it will be up to the embryo recipient to decide if they are going to tell friends, relatives or the child themselves.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) believes there are two stages of disclosure to the offspring. The first involves the decision to tell the child and the second involves how much information to disclose (Ethics Committee, 2004). In disclosure to the child, the parents have the option to provide identifying or non-identifying information, when available. Recipients tend to try to disclose less rather than more, if they decide to disclose at all (MacCallum F. 2009).
Are Some Recipients More Likely to Disclose?
The makeup of the embryo recipient parent or parents will help dictate the probability of disclosure. Recipients who are single or are part of same sex couples will be more likely to disclose since the circumstances of their children’s conception will ultimately become a topic of conversation. However, heterosexual couples are the least likely to disclose.
Why Don’t Embryo Donation Recipients Disclose?
The following were the most common reasons why egg/sperm/embryo recipients do not disclose (MacCallum F, et al. 2007, Jadva V, et al. 2009 & Mahlstedt PP, et al. 2010):
- Desire to protect the child
- Fear of the offspring rejecting the nongenetic parents
- Felt there was no need for disclosure
- Were simply uncertain about how to tell the child
From the embryo recipient’s perspective, they have the right to privacy and the right to choose whether to disclose. Disclosure will result in the broadcasting of the recipient’s infertility issues, which they may have kept quite private (Klock SC. 1997). Embryo recipient parents and their children may be potentially be damaged by other people’s negative reactions, social stigma and the resulting isolation (Shehab D, et al. 2008). Let’s face it: there indeed might be a lack of societal approval of offspring who originated from donor material. Many people are judgmental regarding embryo donation, especially in cultures and religions that emphasize genetic inheritance.
While some couples undergoing egg/sperm donor conception immediately agreed with the disclosure concern, at least half of the partners were not in agreement (Shehab D, et al. 2008). In disclosing heterosexual couples, women were more in favor of disclosure with men more often deferring to their wives to make the decision. In non-disclosing couples, men usually preferred nondisclosure and women tended to defer to their husbands. Conflicting advice from family and friends seemed to make the decision more difficult.
While most embryo donation recipient couples agree on the disclosure or nondisclosure decision, it is interesting to note that fathers (56%, 9/16) were more likely to not want to disclose than mothers.(43%, 9/21). It was hypothesized that fathers may not have recalled as much about the embryo donors, were not as skilled as the mothers in communicating with the child or were simply more protective than the mothers (MacCallum F. 2009).
What Do We Know About the Frequency of Disclosure In Egg, Sperm and Embryo Donation?
How often disclosure occurs in the world of embryo donation is uncertain, but there is a growing body of data suggesting that only a minority of the children are told. In an English study of 17 embryo donation families with donor offspring who were five to nine years old, only 18% of the recipient parents had told their children, 24% planned on telling 12% were undecided and 47% stated they would not tell (MacCallum F. et al. 2008). The reality is that many of those who planned on telling or were undecided may decide against disclosure as the child ages and enters the more difficult years of adolescence. This appears to be different than other donor procedures where 46% of donor sperm insemination parents and 56% of egg donation parents (averaging to about 50%) planned to disclose (Golombok S, et al. 2004).
Since both parents lack a genetic link to the child in embryo donation, they may be even more private about embryo donation than other types of third-party conception families. While adoptive parents almost universally disclose (100% in this Golomok’s study),. embryo recipients carry and deliver the child, so it is far easier for non-disclosure to take place.
Would Consultation With a Mental Health Professional be Helpful?
Mental health professionals, who often rely on adoption literature and experience, almost unanimously encourage disclosure whereas physicians are commonly more neutral. Parents who have used donor material feel the decision to disclose is private and highly personal and should be left to the discretion of the individual families rather than regulated in any way (Shehab D, et al. 2008). Many patients resent direct suggestions that they disclose and far prefer a discussion that examines their own needs and perspectives (Klock SC, 1997). In reality, it is really not appropriate to give a uniform recommendation that does not account for the personal, ethical and religious views of the embryo recipients.
I believe that unbiased psychological counseling early during the embryo donation process may be reasonable but that additional counseling closer to the time that disclosure might take place, will probably be more appreciated. Perhaps even more important, embryo recipients want to hear from other recipients, people who have worked through the issues or are struggling with the disclosure issues themselves (Klock SC, 1997). At EDI, we have plans to create a forum where patients will be able to seek highly desired anonymous peer support.
We will continue this discussion, on disclosure issues from the perspective of the embryo recipient, tomorrow and also launch our final survey. The reference list will also be posted with this second half tomorrow. Stay tuned!
What Will The Relationship Be Like Between The Embryo Donors and the Offspring?
Depending on when disclosure might occur in an Open Embryo Donation or in an Anonymous with Open-Identity option, it is important to picture the offspring somehow entering the donor’s life five to 10 years following the donation or even decades later. Will the contact always be welcome? After meeting for the first time, what will come next: affection, friendship, politeness, family or even love?
Reunions can be threatening to both the embryo donor offspring and the recipients. The parents who raised the child may feel threatened by the relationship between donors and offspring. While reunions of biologic parents and adoptees can be very rewarding, it is uncertain how the situation will fair in the world of embryo donation in either the short or long-term (Grotevant HD, et al, 2008).
The reality is that we don’t have a great deal of information regarding the complex interactions between the donor-offspring and their genetic parents or the donor offspring and their biologic brothers and sisters. We don’t know how the interactions will affect the existing donor offspring –parent/recipient relationship. We need to be careful not to push patients in one direction, only to find out that harm may have been done. When there is no clear data, I feel we must be cautious in what we recommend.
In the recent poll, the majority of respondents were willing to tell friends and family of their decision to donate. In some societies and religions, this decision will be met with concern and even condemnation. The decision to disclose the donation decision needs to be made with care as family and interpersonal relationships may be harmed.
Would Consultation With a Mental Health Professional be Helpful?
The recommendations regarding psychological counseling are confusing. In 2004, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) stated (Ethics Committee for ASRM, 2004):
All prospective recipients and donors should receive counseling with a qualified mental health professional about the psychological implications of donation and disclosure for the recipients, donors, and children.
However, in an article published two years later, ASRM recommended (Practice Committee for ASRM SART, 2006):
Psychological consultation with a qualified mental health professional should be offered to all couples participating in the donor-embryo process.
Psychological assessment by a qualified mental health professional is recommended to ascertain suitability of potential donors.
Recipients of donor embryos and their partners should receive counseling about the potential psychosocial implications.
It would appear that ASRM both mandates and suggests that counseling be performed, so take your pick. We always encourage all embryo donors to seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional. We are careful, however, to not make this mandatory. We have concerns that if we make donating embryos too difficult and time consuming for the donors, they will be more likely to discard or abandon their embryos.
When embryo donors decide to donate their embryos, they must also guide the process concerning eventual disclosure. Open procedures are more likely to include disclosure and eventual contact between the donors and the offspring. Open-Identity procedures may also result in eventual contact, perhaps decades after the donation process was performed and can have uncertain short and long-term consequences. If disclosure occurs, the offspring will probably be fine. According to research, if they are not told, they will doubtfully suffer consequences as long as disclosure didn’t occur by accident. These issues will be covered in detail in an upcoming blog.
Disclosure decisions are controlled by the donor and accepted by the recipient. While more donor egg and sperm offspring feel it is their right to know their genetic origins, the reality is that embryo donation has particular circumstances that make secrecy possible. To say secrecy is always wrong is no different than stating emphatically that it is always right.
Donors and recipients must agree on disclosure decisions together for the good of everyone involved, including the unborn child.
To make this discussion as interesting and current as possible, I’d ask that you participate in our next survey. Please take the survey imagining you are an embryo recipient. I will summarize the survey results in the next blog while reviewing the information we know about the disclosure issues from the perspective of the embryo recipient.
Please ask your family, friends and anyone else interested to join in the survey and add comments to the blog as we wade together through the complex issue of disclosure of the embryo donation process to others, especially to the child.
Please be sure to watch for our next blog: “Embryo Donation Disclosure Issues From the Perspective of the Embryo Recipient.”
Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Informing offspring of their conception by gamete donation. Fertil Steril. 2004 Sep;82 Suppl 1-S212-6.
Grotevant HD, Wrobel GM, Von Korff L, Skinner B, Newell J, Friese S, McRoy RG. Many Faces of Openness in Adoption: Perspectives of Adopted Adolescents and Their Parents. Adopt Q. 2008 Jul 1;10(3 & 4):79-101.
Widdows H, MacCallum F. Disparities in parenting criteria: an exploration of the issues, focusing on adoption and embryo donation. J Med Ethics 2002;28:139-42.
MacCallum F, Golombok S, Brinsden P. Parenting and child development in families with a child conceived through embryo donation. J Fam Psychol. 2007 Jun;21(2):278-87.
MacCallum F, Keeley S. Embryo donation families: a follow-up in middle childhood. J Fam Psychol. 2008 Dec;22(6):799-808.
Practice Committee for ASRM SART. 2006 Guidelines for gamete and embryo donation. Fertil Steril 2006;86(Suppl 4)S38-50.pdf
This is the second of a five-part series by Dr. Craig R. Sweet examining the complex decision-making surrounding the disclosure of the genetic origins of embryo donor offspring to family, friends and the children themselves.
If embryo donors are kind and generous enough to donate their unused frozen embryos to patients in need, their next important decision revolves around whether they want to donate anonymously or if they would like to create some type of relationship with the recipients and their potential offspring. At EDI we want to give donors the widest range of choices, so we offer Anonymous, Approved and Open Embryo Donation procedures.
We do not have accurate national statistics about which embryo donation procedure is chosen most often. Some matching organizations only deal with open procedures while many reproductive facilities only offer anonymous arrangements. Embryo donors, therefore, often have to search for the facility that will cater to their needs.
Is Adoption the Best Model To Follow?
I have written about why I believe the term “embryo adoption” should not be used in the context of embryo donation and the American for Reproductive Medicine has a similar perspective. Regardless of our beliefs, some donors feel a responsibility to the embryos that includes making certain the embryos are donated to a loving and safe home. These donors feel the process is similar to adoption.
Over the years, there has been a trend in traditional adoption towards providing adopted offspring with information about their genetic parents after they turn 18 years of age. This trend towards disclosure is being used to encourage more open procedures in embryo donation. But there is a major difference between the two forms of family building: embryo donation offspring do not have to be told of their origins. Because the recipient carries and delivers the child, it is completely possible to keep the “non-genetic” relationship a secret from family, friends and the child. The donor offspring-recipient relationship begins differently than adoption from legal, emotional, social and practical perspectives.
Embryo donors and the genetic parents of a newborn are able to stipulate what kind of recipient will be given their embryos and newborn. While they will state they are doing what is best for the child, some may argue they are doing what is best for themselves. In the case of child neglect/abuse/abandonment, the courts and case workers will decide what they feel is best for the living child. In this situation, the needs of the child take priority over the perceived needs of the genetic parents. Embryo donation always focuses on the needs of the parents while adoption may focus on the needs of the child.
Are Embryo Recipient Families and Offspring Happy?
Embryo donors may worry about the kind of home in which the potential children of their donated embryos will be raised. Results from recent research can help mitigate these concerns since it appears that embryo donation families are more child-centered than adoptive and other IVF families (MacCallum F, et al. 2007 & 2008). This may be due in part to the recipients’ older age and maturity compared to their younger IVF and adoptive parents. Given their strenuous attempts to conceive, the embryo recipients seem to be extraordinarily appreciative of their gift, making their homes more child-centered and the children seem to be well attended.
Unlike adoption, it is doubtful that the offspring of embryo donation will have the “history of rejection” to resolve like adopted children might have after being separated from their birth parents (Widdows H, et al. 2002). Although studies are lacking, this hurtle doesn’t seem to exist for children created from embryo donation. Indeed, though the donors felt their own family building was complete, they also felt strongly about giving their unused embryos a chance at life as well as wanting to “pay it forward” to deserving recipients. Families created through embryo donation are a product of a loving gift and not formed from rejection.
It would, therefore, appear that the offspring created through embryo donation do not have to have a relationship with the embryo donors to be well adjusted. While it may be desired and perhaps even preferred by offspring, it remains the embryo donor’s choice at this early stage of the game.
What Options Are Readily Available?
I believe that in most Open Embryo Donations, the child will be told of their origins. In fact, contracts may stipulate that the donors have the right to contact the child at a later date or may provide a mechanism for the child to be able to contact the donor at a certain age. An Open Embryo Donation process more closely mirrors an adoption process.
For Anonymous Embryo Donation, EDI is considering Open-Identity, an intermediate option allowing embryo donor offspring access to medical and other types of information after they reach a specified age. A number of steps are needed for open-identity to work:
- Embryo donors must agree to an anonymous process with the option of open-identity at a later date.
- The embryo recipients are not mandated to disclose, so only those offspring who are told may seek contact with the donors.
- If the embryo donor offspring desire contact, they will notify the clinic that performed the embryo donation procedure to access identifying information.
- It is essential that the embryo donors maintain contact with the embryo donation facility so that up-to-date identifying information is available.
I find it curious that most open-identity procedures, such as in adoption, identifying information is only provided at or beyond the age of 18. I can’t help but wonder if the child would be better served by having contact earlier, especially if it is truly desired by all parties. If the donors and recipients agree, why not initiate contact earlier, such as in the formative years? The respondents to our first poll seem to agree with the vast majority favoring an open-identity disclosure before the age of 18.
We will continue this discussion, on disclosure issues from the perspective of the embryo donor tomorrow and also launch the second of our three surveys. The reference list will also be posted with this second half tomorrow. Stay tuned!
The first segment of this series introduced the disclosure topic and linked to our first of three surveys. There were a total of 17 respondents with the results examined below.
Survey Results: “Imagine You Are an Embryo Donor”
1. If you were an embryo donor, which would you prefer (choose only one)?
- I would prefer an Anonymous Embryo Donation process. 18% (3/17)
- I would prefer an Approved Embryo Donation process. 41% (7/17)
- I would prefer an Open Embryo Donation process. 41% (7/17)
Anonymous and Approved Embryo Donation procedures together were only slightly preferred over Open Embryo Donation. It would appear those answering the question wanted to know more about the recipients than a simple anonymous process would provide.
2. If I donated my embryos, I would tell the following:
(not alive or no current relationship)
|My parents||71% (12/17)||29% (5/17)||0% (0/17)|
|My in-laws||47% (8/17)||41% (7/17)||12% (2/17)|
|My siblings||59% (10/17)||24% (4/17)||17% (3/17)|
|My children||65% (11/17)||29% (5/17)||6% (1/17)|
|My friends||65% (11/17)||35% (6/17)||0% (0/17)|
|Average:||61% (52/85)||32% (27/85)||7% (6/85)|
Twice as many respondents would tell family and friends about donating their embryos than would not tell. Embryo donors have previously stated telling friends and family might result in harsh judgments from those who didn’t fully understand their motivations for donation. This concern for judgment may have been reflected by the fact that in-laws were the least frequently told group in the poll above.
3. Would you want to have the embryo donation offspring told that they came from donated embryos?
- Yes 47% (8/17)
- No 18% (3/17)
- Not certain 35% (6/17)
About half of the donors would want the offspring told they were from donated embryos. The other half was uncertain or definitely would not disclose. The uncertain group may gravitate towards nondisclosure over time unless committed to disclosure process early.
4. If I choose an Anonymous or Approved Embryo Donation process (both are still anonymous), I would prefer (choose only one):
- To remaining Anonymous: 12% (2/17)
- Be initially Anonymous with the possibility of Open-Identity at Any Age: 59% (10/17)
- Be initially Anonymous with the possibility of Open-Identity at 18+ Years of Age: 29% (5/17)
About 88% wanted an Open-Identity process. The respondents also wanted offspring to have the ability to contact donors when the children were younger than 18 by two-to-one over those wanting Open-Identity at 18 years of age or older. This is very different than what is currently done with adoption.
5. If I choose the Open Embryo Donation process, I would prefer:
- Open Embryo Donation with Open-Identity at Any Age: 71% (12/17)
- Open Embryo Donation with Open-Identity at 18+ Years of Age: 29% ( 5/17)
Consistent with question four, the respondents wanted Open-Identity younger than 18 years of age, which is very different from what is done in the adoption world.
Thank you for your input. Tomorrow we will release the next installment of this series – Disclosure Issues From the Perspective of the Embryo Donor. We’ll also launch our next survey this week as well and hope you will give us your feedback.