TangledWebs UK

A group challenging donor-conception practices in the UK and internationally

John's story – On Not Being Allowed to Know The Half of It

When I was a teenager, I woke up one morning to find my parents sitting beside my bed. They wanted to tell me something, they said, now that I was old enough: as my father was infertile, I had been conceived via an anonymous sperm donor.

There are maybe many different reactions to this news. Personally, I cried – I’m still not exactly sure why. In the longer-term, however, it’s hard to accurately reconstruct my changing thoughts and feelings over the years, but now nearly two decades on it seems it was a baffling secret lingering in the background most of the time, which my parents and I barely mentioned again, but which I definitely thought about occasionally. Not that there was much to think about, it was always a frustratingly unknowable piece of information to try and process.

As I approached and then overtook thirty, my curiosity grew. I suppose if you’re someone in my situation, the older you get, the more likely you are to think, “who the hell is my father?” So much so that with my parents blessing (not that I would have needed it), I recently decided to try and track down who he is.

But I can’t find him. Neither the hospital I was conceived in, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, nor the voluntary Donor-Conceived Register, can help me find him either. I am, like thousands of others, not entitled to that information because I was conceived before 2005. Granted, it might be the case that some of the “donors” might not also be able to track down their offspring either. However, the reality is, there are many, many more offspring looking for their fathers than there are the other way around (as I found out when I asked how many people had come forward to the Donor-Conceived Register).

Essentially, a deal was made between my biological father and the law without my consent that I’m not allowed to know who he is. Does anyone else in this country have the same lack of rights on this matter? Could you imagine if the same rule applied to people who are adopted? Or if a man who impregnated and then left a woman demanded the same right not to ever be identified?

Implicit in this deal is the assumption that I can’t be trusted with the information (lest I turn up on his doorstep, asking for a hug?) If he doesn’t want to meet, fine. But his right to keep his secret trumps my right to know half of my heritage. Let’s be clear: I’m not asking for the right to get to know him, I am asking for the right to know who he is. These are separate things. Moreover, I’m not only not allowed to know who he is, but also who his parents or any other relatives were/are either (and they aren’t allowed to know who I am), nor where they were from, or lived, etc. All those things that contribute to a healthy psychology, that give a person a sense of who they are, are none of my business. I have to take this frustrating mystery to the grave simply because it keeps him content. It even applies once he dies! Even in death his right for me not to know triumphs my right to know!

Nothing was known on the psychological effects of my ridiculous predicament when I was conceived. Yet though the law has seen sense since (in 2005), myself and thousands of others are still purposely shut out from information practically everyone in the country is entitled to.

So there you go, cheers to this law and my father (and many others like him)! What an ethical silence you uphold! Hope you’re happy, whoever you are.