Identity, Law, and the Right to a Dream?

(2015) 38:2 Dalhousie Law Journal 525-547

24 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2015 Last revised: 29 May 2016

See all articles by Robert Leckey

Robert Leckey

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: January 30, 2015


This paper engages critically with the new orthodoxy holding that individuals have a “right” to know their genetic origins and that such knowledge is crucial to realizing their identities. It examines two case studies: the Pratten litigation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms regarding anonymous donor conception and scholarship approving a reform to Quebec’s adoption law. It addresses the supposed “identity gap” between those who are adopted or donor-conceived and those who are neither. Arguments for law reform exaggerate that gap, opposing the incomplete, insecure identity of the adopted or donor-conceived to the ostensibly complete, secure identity of those raised by their putatively genetic parents. A result is to overstate what is distinct and harmful about being adopted or donor-conceived. The paper also identifies a mistaken perception of law’s role in fashioning identity and recognizing family ties, including what law does for those who are not adopted or donor-conceived and what it might do for those who are. Some claims for law reform in the service of identity expect more from law than it can or should provide.

Keywords: identity, genetic origins, anonymous donor conception, adoption, Pratten, assisted reproduction

JEL Classification: K19

Suggested Citation

Leckey, Robert, Identity, Law, and the Right to a Dream? (January 30, 2015). (2015) 38:2 Dalhousie Law Journal 525-547. Available at SSRN:

Robert Leckey (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec
514-398-4148 (Phone)
514-398-4659 (Fax)

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