TangledWebs UK

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

Problems and misconceptions surrounding donor-conception

Donor conception is not fertility treatment

No one becomes more fertile through donor insemination. If a man is infertile and his female partner is inseminated with the sperm of another man, then he is still infertile, and has not had a child. A different couple have conceived: the woman and another (usually unknown) man – the "sperm donor".

Sperm donors are fathers

Calling a man who provides his sperm to create a child a "sperm donor" clouds the issue.

A sperm donor is not a donor in the sense of a blood or organ donor. He does not merely give some material substance. He gives to someone else the power to create his children, and with that, he essentially abandons his own children.

Tom writes:

The man whose sperm I was conceived by is my father. He is my father as much as he would have been if I had been conceived naturally, but adopted, or separated at birth by terrible accident, or kidnapped and raised by other people, or if he had decided to run off with another woman, and never see me or my mother again, or if he had died before I was born.

I think sperm donors find it very difficult to come to terms with having abandoned their children. I think they don't believe they are allowed to feel an attachment to their "donated" children because they entered into a contract, and they mistakenly believe it would be bad for the children and the recipient parents.

The so-called "gift of life"

In the eyes of many donor-conceived people, "sperm donors" are fathers! Instead of giving the "gift of life", "sperm donors" give away their children. They create people destined for a life with no contact or meaningful relationship with their father.

David Velleman has accurately written that life is not a "gift" but a "predicament". "Sperm donors" abandon their children to the unknown, dooming them to deal with this predicament without the support of one of the two people best placed to help and support them in life: their father.

Nobody wins

Nobody wins with donor conception. Everyone involved loses.

The woman does not share a child with her husband or partner. Instead of the child being a symbol of their love for each other, and containing a part of both of them, half of the child is a total stranger. The infertile man is still infertile. He hasn't had a child.

The child does not know who its father is, or at the very least cannot have a normal and meaningful relationship with its father.

The "sperm donor" (i.e. father) is not allowed to make contact with his children, and not allowed to bring them up like a father should.

Avoiding responsibility

All the adults involved in donor conception shirk their responsibilities to the human being they intend to create.

The infertile couple justify their creation of a new person by convincing themselves that because the "sperm donor" has given consent for his sperm to be used, it's fine. And the doctor says loads of people do this and it's quite safe, so it's fine.

The "sperm donor" thinks to himself "I really want to help infertile people have children", and he assumes that the child will be fine, because desperate parents must be loving parents. If he fully understood that the child is actually his child and he was essentially abandoning him or her to total strangers he'd be much less likely to do it.

Doctors assume that any new medical discovery that helps people is automatically good. They revel in the opportunity to bring happiness to distressed people. They believe this justfies creating a person whose parents have never met and have no connection.

Why anonymity?

Why would anyone involved in donor conception (recipient mothers, infertile men, donors, clinics) want donors to be anonymous?


I asked an internet forum of former sperm donors why they might have preferred anonymity. I received two answers.

Firstly, there's a risk that donors might be sued for child support. The risk depends on the laws of the country, but to feel safe a donor might want his identity to be withheld. I understand that a man wouldn't want to take a financial risk when all he believes he is doing is "helping an infertile couple". However, sperm donors are fathers, and if they want to mitigate the risk of being held responsible for their children, then they should not have children!

Secondly, I was told that a sperm donor would not want to meet an "emotionally complicated offspring", later in life. But why should a sperm donor believe that any of his offspring should be "emotionally complicated"? Hidden in this is the acknowledgement that donor-conception runs the risk of creating people who will have psychological trauma about the way they were created.

Recipient mothers and their infertile partners

An infertile couple who choose donor-conception may be worried that if their child's "donor" is not anonymous then the child may give some of its childly-attention to the "donor" instead of the mother and "social" father. Perhaps in the worst case, the child may completely abandon the couple who created it, feeling a stronger bond to the natural father.

This is an open acknowledgement that donor-conception severs, or prevents formation of, a naturally occurring bond between child and father.

Does it matter that you had your child using donor-conception, and that it has never met and may never know one of its parents? If it doesn't matter, why not tell? Why use an anonymous donor?

"Fertility" Clinics

"Fertility" clinics make money out of impregnating women with men's sperm. These clinics often want anonymity for "sperm donors" in order to have a large supply of sperm to sell.

It has been widely reported in the UK media that the number of "sperm donors" has decreased since anonymous "donation" was forbidden.

Of course it has! Anonymity allowed men to hide and pretend that the people created as a result of their "donations" had nothing to do with them. Now that these men are forced to take a small amount of responsibility towards their children they no longer want to have children in this bizarre way.

AIDS analogy

If you have AIDS, you have a responsibility not to have a child: you may pass on a life-destroying incurable disease.

If you cannot provide your child with its natural father, you have a responsibility not to have a child. You put the child in a soul-destroying, incurable position.

Donor conception is more harmful than losing a parent before birth

If a child's father dies before the child is born, then that child will have lost the opportunity of having a relationship with their natural father. But at least the child will have the opportunity to learn about their father from their mother and relatives. Such an opportunity is not afforded to donor-conceived people.

Grief that cannot be mourned

Donor-conception is the loss of a parent from a child's life. It is understandable, then, that the child will have a human need to grieve the loss of this parent like he or she would grieve a death.

This grief is not shared by anyone else in the family. Nobody else in the family (unless there is a sibling with the same donor) has lost an important person in their life. Thus the donor-conceived person must suffer through this experience on his or her own. What is more, very few people from the family or wider society even accept that the donor-conceived person has any right to grieve. They do not understand what has been lost. With this lack of wider understanding, the grief is known as "disenfranchised grief".

What reinforces the difficulty is that it was the parents' actions that caused the grief in the first place. A donor-conceived person generally feels unable to communicate this grief to their parents, for fear of hurting them, or unsetting family stability. Thus the grief and torment remains hidden from view, suppressed and not dealt with.

Pain from the protectors

Notice again in the above paragraph that it was the parents' actions which directly cause a huge anguish in a person. The difficulties this causes are not to be underestimated.

For a man, woman, boy or girl to discover that they have been cut off from a meaningful relationship with their natural parent is hard enough. It can cause huge resentment to realise that this is due to the thoughtless actions of the person or people who should be taking most care of them out of everyone in the world, the person or people who should be putting that child's interests before everything else.

Identity release and early telling is not enough