Ethical Issues in Gamete Donation (Pages: 0-0)

Eric Blyth *,


Semen donation is one of the earliest – and technologically least sophisticated - forms of assisted reproduction with evidence of physicians offering the service at least as far back as the mid 19th century CE. However from the outset the dubious acceptability morality and legality of the practice ensured that it was practiced as a clandestine rather than simply a confidential medical service. Physicians ensured that donors (frequently their friends and professional colleagues) and recipients never knew of each other’s identity often advised recipients and their partner not to tell anyone – including their child(ren) – of their recourse to semen donation and no provisions were made for donor-conceived people to learn anything about their donor. Secrecy anonymity and donor recruitment practices promoted the use of semen from a single donor on multiple occasions and it is known that some donors have helped to conceive many dozens of offspring. As demand for semen donation increased physicians sought to recruit new donors offering modest financial reward as an incentive. Subsequent technological developments enabled oocyte and embryo donation to become widely available applying similar practice models to those already adopted for semen donation although higher levels of financial compensation have tended to be offered to oocyte donors. While semen oocyte and embryo donation were initially intended to assist heterosexual couples with a fertility difficulty to conceive a child they have become a key means by which single women and lesbian couples (using donated semen) and post-menopausal women (using donated oocytes or embryos). Although comparatively little empirical information concerning gamete donation is available primarily because it was set up in a way that precludes the accumulation of an adequate evidence base a number of ethical issues have emerged and which will be discussed in this presentation including: • Service providers’ responsibilities to promote evidence based practice • Service providers’ responsibilities towards donors recipients and donor-conceived individuals • Welfare of donor-conceived individuals-including • Separation of children from their genetic parent(s) • Limits on the number of offspring conceived by the gametes of a single donor • Information for donor-conceived individuals about their genetic and biographical history and about their genetic relatives • Use of gamete and embryo donation by single women individuals in same sex relationships and older post-menopausal women. • Donors’ responsibilities and obligations • Commercialisation of gamete procurement and financial rewards for donors • Risks of donor exploitation