People born as a result of sperm or egg donations in France will now have easier access to the identity of their donors, under a new law that came into effect on Thursday.
The law on “access to personal origins” says donors must consent to their identity being disclosed to any resulting biological children if the latter request it when they become adults.
People have “the right to know how they came into the world”, said Adele Bourdelet, of the ADDED association for donor-conceived children.
While the requirement to be identifiable applies to future donors, a commission will be set up to help today’s donor-conceived adults discover more about their biological origins if they wish to.
Past donors still have the right to refuse their identity being revealed.
“The reform had become inevitable because society has changed,” said Dr Florence Eustache, vice-president of the CECOS federation of hospital fertility clinics.
When artificial insemination was introduced more than four decades ago, infertility was something of a taboo subject and parents might have hidden from their child that they were conceived using donor cells.
But for many years now, psychologists have advised families to be open with the information, and as early as possible.
As in the case of adoption, some donor-conceived people are keen to discover their biological origins. Others don’t feel this is an important part of their identity, said ADDED’s Bourdelet.
She said she hoped the reform would not lead to fewer parents revealing to their children how they were conceived, for fear that an emotional link might one day develop between the latter and their donors.
Others have voiced concern that the loss of anonymity might put some prospective donors off.
“It’s a complicated question,” said Joanna (not her real name), who has donated her eggs in the past and can see the dilemma that could face future donors.
“It’s asking me to agree to something way, way into the future. If I have kids then, it (the revelation) could have an impact on them.”
But Dr Eustache said the “vast majority” of donors agreed with the change in the law.
PMAnonyme, which campaigns for “access to origins”, concurred.
In countries like Britain and Sweden, where anonymity rules were relaxed several years ago, the number of donors dropped off initially but then recovered and exceeded initial levels.
The organization said the new law would assist thousands of donor-conceived people in “an essential personal quest”.
They might want to “put a face to this man or woman, know who they get their physical characteristics from, find out their medical history, sort out what they owe to genetics and what to nurture”, PMAnonyme president Alexandre Mercier explained.
“It’s not about replacing the parents who raised us or stopping loving them.”