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Disclosing the perfect stranger

Sharing genetic information with your child

by Mindy Berkson  |  1996 views  |  0 comments  |      Rate this now! 

One decision that is often overlooked in donor facilitated arrangements is the determination to disclose to future offspring their genetic origins. In the past this was always done anonymously and the secrecy continued over the course of a lifetime. However, recent studies on sharing genetic origins with offspring have proved that disclosure of genetic origin at a young age is healthy in maintaining a strong relationship and bond for all involved parties.

The three main factors that play into disclosure are does the child have an inherent right or need to know biological origins, and what is in their best interests? How disclosure impacts the recipient parents? And finally, when to disclose the information to offspring?

The best interests of child can be argued from both sides, a growing number of mental health professionals agree that a child has a fundamental right to know his biological origins. No one can predict if this medical information may be necessary in the event of a medical emergency or how access to this information may help an individual when he/she is ready to start their own family. It can be argued that this information is fundamental to an individual’s sense of self and personal identity. These values need to be analyzed on an individual basis consistent with thoughts and beliefs of that particular family unit. Maintaining secrecy can be difficult, especially family secrets. If discovered, by accident, the risks of impacting the relationships and family bonds could be jeopardized.

In a study performed by Lycett et al., (2004) the impact of disclosure was analyzed on families willing to share this information with their offspring. Out of 46 donor created offspring, 60% of the families had elected not to disclose genetic origins and the remaining 40% planned to disclose the child’s origins once the child reached adolescence. What was most interesting about this study is that between the two groups there were no differences between the disclosing and non-disclosing fathers. It was the non-disclosing mothers who reported a strain with keeping the secret. Thus, indicating that non disclosure impacts mothers more intensely than it impacts fathers. Many mothers fear the reaction from the child, and are concerned about placing a strain on the parent child bond. The study highlighted that these parental attitudes may in fact impact the parent-child bond as the children get older.

In contrast, a study performed by Van Berkel et al., (2007) in the Netherlands, where non-anonymous donation is standard and the only option available, investigated secrecy in open donation arrangements. Of the participants, the vast majority felt that origins of conception had no influence on their relationship with the child. The mothers did, however, show a greater level of concern about the disclosure plans and how the children would react to the information. Thus emphasizing the fear factor expressed by mothers is in the previous study. However when comparing being required to use open donation vs. anonymous donation, all mothers agreed that the genetic origin did not impact their familial relationships and or bonds with their children. The vast majority of the cases studied in the Netherlands, showed the children regarded the donor as an aunt or special family friend.

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