There is quite a dialogue going on in the US about the anonymity of sperm/egg donors. I can’t help thinking about how we in the UK make changes in our laws and the process of thought which precedes change.
A very significant change in UK thinking about people and their rights took place in the late 18th/early 19th centuries which led to the abolition of slavery. Typically in Britain this took place in two stages. Firstly trading in slaves was abolished throughout the Empire in 1807. This allowed owners to keep the slaves they already had but not acquire new ones i.e. the contracts which existed in the past regarding the sale or purchase of slaves were not invalidated and property was given its usual pre-eminence. Later in 1834 slavery itself was abolished although, in a typically British fashion, there was some small print.
This shows that although the legislators must have been aware that slavery was a violation of human rights, they put the convenience, wealth and commercial practice of the slave owners before the rights of the slaves. So even when a contract is regarded as being morally wrong, it must be upheld by the law.
Similarly, when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act recently came into force in the UK, there was an acknowledged realisation that donor offspring should be allowed access to their conception records after the age of 18. Once again although there has been a moral and psychological awareness of the predicament, commercial practice and /or contracts signed prior to 1991 must be allowed pre-eminence. So no hope for the thousands conceived before that time. Whilst I am not equating slavery with advances in human fertilisation, I am looking at the way the law is used to protect the indefensible and how changes occur so slowly that it would seem that there is a hope that the difficult and quarrelsome people will die out.
Whilst many people drawing up the contracts which protected donor secrecy in the past may have had good motives in mind, our attitudes towards children, adoptees, relationships, families and sexuality has moved on. We should not be using the law to uphold contracts which are morally and practically wrong. Of course safeguards will be needed to protect all parties but this is not insurmountable. We’ve had our first law – how about the second?
Let us have the courage and will to tackle the moral issues which beset us in the 21st Century and instead of using delaying tactics in the hope the problem will go away, let’s do what is right – now.