What Do We Tell the Children?

46 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2007 Last revised: 12 May 2008


Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) now offer multiple pathways to parenthood for infertile heterosexuals, gay and lesbian couples, and singletons of varying sexual preferences. For some, the explosion of ART-inspired families is cause for celebration; for others, it signals the subversion of important social values. But regardless of whether one embraces or reviles the trend, the proliferation of non-traditional baby-making poses a multitude of questions. One of the most vexing involves the ethics of disclosure. What do we tell the children? What are they ethically or legally entitled to know? How might disclosure affect other ART participants? And who is to make these difficult decisions - parents or the State?

Continued stigma surrounding infertility, concerns about a child's "identity confusion," and worries that disclosure will impair bonding between the non-biologically linked parent and offspring lead many couples to keep the use of donor gametes secret. This secret-keeping reinforces existing policies of anonymous donation that signal to adoptive parents and donors alike that the act of donation is a "one-shot deal" carrying with it no enduring bond or connection. Today, a growing grassroots movement is questioning this operational premise.

The children of sperm and egg donation have begun agitating for more open policies regarding donor identity. Countries in Europe and provinces in both Australia and New Zealand have moved toward open-donation policies and many contend that the United States should follow suit. But before following international trends toward open-donation in third-party assisted reproduction, it is important to assess what we know about ART children in both open and closed donation settings. Policy makers should ask, is closed donation exacting a psychological cost on ART progeny? Does clear data establish the superiority of open systems? This article examines these questions in light of the data we have on ART's "children of choice." It surveys developments in countries that have banned anonymous donation and offers suggestions of how the United States might best craft policies that preserve ART's capacity to fulfill the dreams of family-seeking adults, while maximizing the well-being and healthy functioning of donor offspring.

Keywords: assisted reproduction, disclosure, sperm donation, adoption

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Waldman, Ellen, What Do We Tell the Children?. Capital University Law Review, Vol. 35, No. 2, p. 517, 2006; TJSL Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1020095. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1020095

Ellen Waldman (Contact Author)

Thomas Jefferson School of Law ( email )

701 B Street
Suite 110
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
619-961-4346 (Phone)

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