Dates: 1 October 2010 to 30 June 2013
Funder: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Ref: RES-062-23-2810
Project team: Carol Smart (Principal Investigator), Petra Nordqvist (Research Associate and Co-Investigator)
About the project
Since 1991 more than 35,000 children have been born in the UK as a result of donor conception and increased access to new reproductive technologies means families with children conceived through donor conception will become more and more common.
In this project we wanted to explore what it means to have a child born through donor conception. Does it mean different things for heterosexual parents and lesbian parents? What is it like for the ‘non-genetic’ parent? How do grandparents feel about having a grandchild who is conceived with the help of an egg, sperm or embryo donor?
We interviewed 44 couples who conceived using a donor and 30 grandparents of donor-conceived children to understand the important question about what to tell the child, and wider family, about their genetic origins. And what 'counts' as family when your child shares a genetic link with a 'relative stranger' but not your partner?
Our contribution to new report on ethical aspects of disclosure in donor conception
In April 2013 the Nuffield Council on Bioethics produced a report on the ethical issues around telling donor conceived children about their genetic origins. We were invited to contribute to the report, based on our research, and Carol Smart was asked to respond to the report at the official launch.
- View the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Donor Conception website (download the full and summary reports from here)
- Download our contribution to the call for evidence from the report's authors
- Read Carol Smart's Bionews blog commenting on the Nuffield report
Project update, Spring 2013
We are busy analysing our data and sharing our findings. This involves lots of writing, especially for our forthcoming book on donor conception and families based on the project. Carol and Petra are out and about talking about the project at meetings and conferences, both in the UK and abroad. We'll post all our publications and other outputs (watch out for more videos) on these web pages as they appear.
A big thank you to all our interviewees for taking the time to share their stories with us.
Genetic Identities, personal lives and assisted donor conception
Friday 22 March 2013, Manchester Museum
Genetic relatedness plays an important role in the cultural fabric of family life. It shapes the way that we think about what it means to be related to people, our assumptions about conception, reproduction and having children, and is fundamental to questions about origin, personal identity and 'who we are'. The use of egg, sperm and embryo donation in the context of assisted reproduction poses questions to these deep-seated cultural assumptions. Increasingly, parents of donor conceived children are encouraged to share information about children's genetic origins; an 'ethics of disclosure' now shapes this practice. This conference marked the end of the end of the project in which Carol Smart and Petra Nordqvist explored how donor conception and decisions about disclosure are managed within and impact on the lives and relationships of families. This interdisciplinary day conference reflected on the impact of new medical technologies on family life and also brought them into conversation with cutting edge research in the field of kinship, relatedness, genetic identity and the ethics of knowing 'who we are'.
- 'Assisting kinship through assisted conception' - Professor Jeanette Edwards (Anthropology, University of Manchester) -
- 'Real Parents, Dubious Progenitors and who we really are!' - Professor John Harris (Lord Alliance Professor of Bioethics, Institute of Science, Ethics and Innovation, University of Manchester)
- 'Personal Life and Genetic Relatedness' - Professor Carol Smart (Morgan Centre, University of Manchester)
- ''Opening Up'. Donation, information and family relationalities' - Dr Petra Nordqvist (Morgan Centre, University of Manchester)
New Families and Genetic Identities: Developments in law, policy and research
20-21 June 2013, London School of Economics
This conference aimed to explore the social and legal significance of what it means to be genetically related. While it is easy to say that genetic links are significant for individuals and families, the precise meanings of such links are highly contested, as are associated concepts such as 'origin', 'identity' and 'openness'. New medical technologies and practices such as donor conception and surrogacy now challenge the taken-for-granted boundaries of relatedness and identity. Our conference brough together original empirical research on how families (including children) negotiate genetic relatedness with critical explorations of the social, ethical and legal consequences of new family forms and the politcal role of the state in managing and recording personal identity.
- 'New Families and the Welfare of the Children' - The Rt. Hon. Lady Hale DBE PC (The Supreme Court) Response by Natalie Gamble (Natalie Gamble Associates)
- 'Relative Strangers: Living with donor conception' - Professor Carol Smart and Dr Petra Nordqvist (Morgan Centre, University of Manchester) Response by Professor Sally Sheldon (Law, University of Kent) and Tracey Sainsbury (London Women's Clinic)
- 'Child or Offspring? Family from a children's rights perspective' - Professor Titti Mattsson (Law, University of Lund, Chair of the Nordic Committee on Bioethics)
- 'Congratulations: It's a Viking' - Professor Janne Rothmar Herrmann (Law, University of Copenhagen, member of the Nordic Committee on Bioethics)
- 'The Nuffield Council Report on Bioethics' - Dr Rhona Knight GP (Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics working party on donor conception)
- 'There is no such thing as genetic identity' - Professor John Harris (Lord Alliance Professor of Bioethics, University of Manchester) Chaired by Dame Janet Finch (Sociology, University of Manchester)
- 'From Family Memory to Digital Record: Exploring personal heritage in the 21st Century' - Dr Nick Barratt (The National Archive, and genealogist for Who Do You Think You Are?) Chaired by Dr Anne-Marie Kramer (Sociology, University of Nottingham)
- 'What Was Registration For? Civil registration in England and Wales since 1837' - Professor Eddy Higgs (History, University of Essex)
- 'Recording Parenthood Prenatally: Problems of birth and death in the 21st Century' - Professor Carol Sanger (Law, Columbia University)
- 'Paper-working Parenthood: Birth registration and family law' - Dr Julie McCandless (Law, LSE)
- 'Understanding Family Resemblances' - Professor Jennifer Mason (Sociology, University of Manchester)
- 'Family Connections in Genes and Stories' - Dr Janice McLaughlin and Dr Emma Clavering (Sociology, Newcastle University)
- 'Practices of Matching in a Fertility Clinic' - Venessa Smith (London Women's Clinic)
- '"Daddy's run out of tadpoles": The views and experiences of donor-conceived children' - Professor Susan Golombok (Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge) Chaired by Professor Emily Jackson (Law, LSE)
Following on from this conference, Antony Blackburn-Starza has published a review for BioNews. Download PDF > [opens in new window]