Sunday, 15 November 2009

Natural Selection

Darwin’s theory of evolution makes us evaluate the way in which human beings relate to the whole animal kingdom and how we have evolved as a species. The study of the human race and the nuclear family is fascinating. However, many of us who are donor-conceived have an overwhelming sense of loss or disconnection. We may well have one side of our family to whom we can relate but even they have nuclear families which are not the same as ours. I always knew that I did not relate too well to my adopted brother as we were very different people, but that I had a very strong connection to my mother’s family. I admired and loved my father’s family but there was not the same closeness when my cousins and I grew up. As my father died when I was at school, I never had time to explore our relationship in the way I would have liked.

When I was diagnosed with lymphoma I realised I would need to let my son and daughter know more about their family – not doing a family tree but explaining about family members, personalities etc. for when they had children of their own. This is when I started to look more closely at my family and relationships. I realised that once my father’s brothers and sisters had died, the closeness was lost with my paternal cousins and that although the family was very middle class, in fact they were very different from me.

This year my mother confirmed to me that I was donor-conceived. It was a shock but not really a surprise. Once I started looking at my life and relationships more honestly, I could see all the anomalies to which I had closed my eyes. Once you have children, you start to look much more at where they and you come from. Our heritage becomes very, very important. Nowadays, we have moved away from the 1960s with its insistence that everything is influenced by our environment. We are realising, not just from an anecdotal point of view, but from scientific study, that genetics account for more and more of our behaviour, talents, personality and physique.

This is why it is important for us to convey to other people that deliberately creating children who are designed to be separate from their genetic and cultural backgrounds is cruel. Recently a number of us were thrilled to learn another donor-conceived adult had discovered a half-sibling. We understand the joy it must give and it gives hope that such a discovery may be possible for other donor-conceived people, despite a deliberate policy by the medical profession and others to ignore our deep-rooted needs. Our right to be genetically in touch with our families is just as important as the needs of infertile couples to have children. However, our needs are not given the same prominence. This is not only because infertile couples are more vocal, but an industry exists and professional careers are being made on the back of infertility.

We are making much of Darwin’s anniversary this year – a pity we don’t really take on board what natural selection really means. This does not mean that infertility should not be helped, any more than illnesses should not be cured, but it should not be done at the expense of damage to other people.

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