Saturday, 22 August 2009

Entering the world of Donor Conception

As my mother is 95 and very deaf, there is a limit to how much I can question her about the past and how much detail she can remember. All the time I have been conscious that I must not seem to be critical of her actions in any way as it is through her resourcefulness that I am alive today. I also didn't want her to realise how shocked I was at the news nor how it might hamper my search for a bone marrow donor. I knew I would have to research the background to my origins myself.

The world I was entering was also rather murky. I researched the papers written by the early pioneers and it appeared that in the 1920s and 1930s it wasn’t only the Germans who were interested in genetic engineering, the UK and US also wrote about this. They seemed very keen that such fertility treatments should be offered to women of good character, class and background although the fact that these treatments were quite expensive and not widely available probably meant engineering by financial outcome rather than medical or legal decisions.

There was much discussion about the legality of these births. My mother would only go ahead with the treatment once the law was changed in 1945 to allow all the offspring of a marriage to be legitimate. Was this change in the law to protect the children or the pride of the father? Certainly no mention of donor conception was made on any birth certificates nor did there seem to be any requirement for permanent records to be kept let alone shared.

Medical students in particular regarded this as a way of making money, rather like the US blood donations in the past, so how effective the screening really was I don’t know – or even how sterile the conditions were. Before sperm could be frozen, donors were given sterile bottles to fill at home and deliver on a regular basis to the clinic. Anecdotal evidence of the period shows that although these were pioneering times for infertility treatment, there were some irregularities too which is perhaps why there is so much secrecy about these early records.

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