Do donor children benefit from knowing their origins?

Xavier Symons
May 19, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

Folk wisdom, world literature and common sense suggest that donor-children benefit from knowing their biological origins.

Yet a recent article in the journal Human Reproduction claims that there is no significant psychological difference between children who know they are donor-conceived and those who do not.

University of Ghent bioethicist Guido Pennings - who adamantly opposes retrospective changes to donor law - conducted a systematic review of empirical studies on the well-being of donor offspring. He argues that there is "no empirical evidence of differences in psychological well-being of donor offspring in disclosing or non-disclosing families".

Pennings reviewed several studies conducted in the past two decades into disclosure among pre-adolescents and adolescents. The data, he says, shows "no negative consequences in the parent-child relationship or child development because of nondisclosure of the child's donor origin". On the contrary, certain studies suggest that "children who were told and whose mothers were distressed showed greater adjustment difficulties".

Pennings also reviews data about the age at which children are told, arguing that there is no strong evidence to suggest that the age of disclosure makes a difference to the psychological well-being of donor-offspring. The studies which do suggest a difference are based on biased sample studies or only show negligible variations in the impacts of delayed disclosure. Or so it is argued.

In a blog post , Pennings suggests that counsellors and psychologists rely more on moralistic claims than empirical evidence when they suggest early disclosure to parents of donor-children: "When [moral] beliefs are expressed and pushed upon people during counselling, this is an outright violation of the non-directiveness rule that stipulates that the moral values and views of the patients (parents and would-be parents) must be respected."

Pennings remarks garnered several highly critical comments.