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The changing face of the family

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Monday, January 14, 2008 | 0 comments

Every child who has come from a donor egg or sperm will have a symbol stamped on their birth certificate to show that the person they call Mum or Dad isn't their biological parent.

An influential group of peers last month called for the law change to force parents to reveal donor conceptions.

But this isn't the only controversial new proposal. Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services says: "The laws governing everything from egg freezing to sperm donors will have a huge impact on the future of the family - in good ways and bad.
"We have to get used to the fact that the image of a traditional 'Janet and John' family, with mother at home and father working nine to five, is a myth - and probably always has been.

"Instead of wringing our hands at the way society is turning out and trying to legislate against it, we need to accommodate the reality of life. The most important thing is that children are brought up in a happy, loving family."

Here, we take a look at some of the possible new laws and the effect they could have on our lives...

Parents forced to tell children that they are from donors

Proposed Change: Under the proposals, a special mark stamped next to a child's name on their birth certificate would reveal whether he or she was conceived naturally or with the help of a donor.

At the moment, parents are under no obligation to tell their children if they are the result of donor eggs or sperm. If this became law, parents who hid these facts could be fined or imprisoned.


Pros: The idea is in response to concerns about the growing number born through assisted fertility treatments. It would ensure children know their biological heritage and discover if they're likely to suffer from any hereditary diseases.

Cons: Fertility pressure groups think this could do more harm than good. They argue that children could discover they were not genetically related to their parents by accidentally stumbling across a birth certificate. Plus birth certificates are asked for in many different application processes - which would mean that everyone could automatically know if someone was conceived with the help of a donor.

Gillian Lockwood says: "Around 10 per cent of birth certificates have the name of someone who isn't the baby's true father. Some have no father at all. Do they propose to give mums lie-detector tests?"
Limit IVF attempts to one embryo
Proposed Change: Clinics are currently allowed to implant two or three embryos in a woman's womb during IVF. This maximises the chances of at least one resulting in a successful pregnancy, but also increases the chances of having twins or triplets.

The new proposal, from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, aims to limit women to one embryo per attempt.


Pros: It will cut the number of potentially dangerous multiple births. And it will reduce the emotional and financial impact of families who longed for one baby but struggle to cope with twins or triplets.

Cons: It could spell heartache for thousands of childless couples by reducing their chances of IVF success and increasing the money they have to spend on further attempts.

Ban on anonymous sperm or egg donor

The change: In April 2005, donor anonymity was banned in Britain.

From the age of 18 all donor-conceived children now have a right to know the identity of their genetic parents.

This means that if you donate sperm or eggs you must be willing to be listed on the HFEA (Human Fertilisation And Embryology Authority) register. The impact of these law changes was both immediate and dramatic, and donations of sperm and eggs plummeted.


Pros: It will put a stop to the whole generation of children growing up without knowing who their biological mothers or fathers are.

Children will be able to find out if they have any genetic predisposition to certain illnesses.

Cons: Prospective donors have been put off by the fear of someone turning up in 18 years' time and asking: "Are you my real mum?"
Egg and sperm donation are at an all-time low, with too few donors to match the number of infertile couples.

Spare-part babies

Proposed Change: Parents of sick children will be allowed to use IVF to create "spare-part babies" under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which is expected to become law in 2009.


Pros: An unprecedented opportunity to save your sick or dying child with a perfectly biologically matched baby. "Saviour siblings" will be able to help cure their older brothers and sisters of conditions such as leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia.

Cons: Some fear doctors are "playing God" and risk turning children into commodities. An otherwise healthy baby is immediately subject to medical intervention and may be in and out of hospital for some time for the sake of their sibling.

And parents may have a child that they didn't plan for or want in their own right, which could lead to emotional difficulties for all concerned further down the line.

Older women travelling for IVF

The change: IVF clinics in the UK have a cut-off age of 55 for treatment, so more and more women in their late-50s and 60s are travelling abroad to have babies in countries with more relaxed laws. There was controversy two years ago about Patricia Rashbrook becoming a mother at 63 after her baby was conceived using a donor egg in an IVF clinic in Russia.


Pros: Childless couples who are desperate for a baby can finally have the chance to conceive, whatever their age.

Cons: Older mums may struggle to find the energy to cope with raising young children and face the prospect of being 80 when their child is 20.

Critics say it's wrong to have children so late as you have a high probability of dying before they turn 30 and may not be around for future grandchildren.

Egg freezing
The change: Several clinics in Britain now offer women the opportunity to freeze their eggs for use at a later date.

Previously, it was only fertilised embryos that could be frozen but, thanks to scientific advances in egg storage, unfertilised eggs have now been successfully frozen, thawed and used to create an IVF pregnancy and healthy baby.


Pros: Female cancer patients who have radiation treatment, which can destroy the ovaries, now have the chance to be a mother.

It avoids problems such as the case of Natallie Evans, who was not allowed to keep frozen embryos because her ex-husband wouldn't give permission for her to use them. With egg freezing, the woman has sole ownership of her eggs. In theory, this allows her to stop her biological clock until she finds Mr Right or is in a position to take a career break.

Cons: More older mothers. With the average age for giving birth already rising, egg-freezing could persuade women to leave trying for a baby later still, further pushing up the age of mothers and increasing the health risks.

The older your eggs, the lower the success rate, so there is a good chance that unless you freeze eggs before the age of 35 you'll end up disappointed.


Image: Having Your Baby Through Egg Donation, by Ellen Sarasohn, Evelina Weidman Sterling. Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Pub; 1 edition (January 15, 2012)Having Your Baby Through Egg Donation
by Ellen Sarasohn, Evelina Weidman Sterling

-- A comprehensive book for people considering parenthood through donated ova, and those supporting them.

It takes readers through the decision-making process, focusing on questions they are likely to be asking themselves, including: Are we candidates for egg donation? Will it work?

How much does it cost? How do we find a donor?

How do we talk about our decision with others? How will we tell our children? Ethical questions related to egg donation are also examined:

Can a donor truly have informed consent Is it ethically correct for donors to receive payment, and, if so, is the payment for 'time and effort' or for their eggs?

Image: Buy Now on Amazon.comHardcover: 384 pages
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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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