Dear Robert
My husband & I are looking into IVF with donor eggs. My preference would have been to have treatment in this country as the child could eventually find out who their biological mother is. The costs, however are very expensive compared to some clinics overseas. Are there studies that suggest the importance (or otherwise) of being able to eventually have contact with your biological mother? If it proves to be very important then it may persuade me to pay the additional costs. My dilemma is fewer treatments in the UK with future knowledge of the donor vs more treatments overseas with a greater chance of us becoming parents but is denying a child the right to know their biological mother a choice I may regret? Yours H.
Reply…

Dear H,

By ‘biological mother’, you really mean ‘genetic mother’ I think. In my view if you have a donated egg you are the biological mother for most purposes. This is very different from, say, adoption where there is a good deal of evidence that some adopted children as they grow up wish to seek out their genetic parents (usually, but not always their mother). There is much less evidence that this is important for recipients of egg donation. Yes, I know that a few children born as a result of sperm donation have felt very aggrieved at not being able to trace their natural father which is why the law changed a few years ago which made this kind of information required on birth certificates; this facilitated the process of seeking a parent. But the issue of egg donation may be different, because of the nature of maternal nurture.

The person who receives an egg in her uterus has all kinds of influences on that baby’s development. As the study of the field of epigenetics extends, we begin to realise that the mere printing of the genome, the DNA, is not the only aspect of our inheritance. It is not merely the mother’s diet either. We know there are subtle hormonal and neurological influences on the unborn child which are part of the process of events before delivery and which may affect for example its health, cognitive ability, personality and growth. So I think it is quite valuable to think of egg donation in a positive way.

Now as to ‘fertility tourism’ as it is rather dismissively called, I worry that charges in the UK for these treatments are so much more than in many parts of Europe. This damages the values we have in the UK and seems very difficult to justify, seeing as we pay less for energy, much of our food and, as a nation, do not earn substantially more. I do not pretend to be happy about the cost of private treatment in Britain and fully understand why people like yourself go for treatment in other countries. I think the advice must be to try to make sure you go to a reputable place and feel trust in the team offering treatment. It is important that the donors are not being exploited in any way and that the clinic has proper controls on the number if embryos put into the uterus if fertilisation is successful. It is an irony with our regulation that a woman can have three embryos returned to the uterus, come back through UK Border Controls with triplets and then give birth dangerously and with disastrous costs to the NHS because she has three infants needing an incubator for many weeks.

I appreciate I have not answered your question. I cannot because I don’t have good evidence one way or another. This may be very contentious and some people will disagree strongly. But I think we have to face the obvious fact that a very substantial number of British children do not know who their genetic parents actually were and there is very little evidence to suggest that they are very damaged or deprived as a result. So much depends on the loving environment and care you give to a child.

Good wishes with what ever decision you decide to take.
Robert Winston

2 Comments

  1. marilynn

    You differentiated between biological and genetic mothers and a female with offspring is a biological mother whether she gave birth or not because her offspring shares her biology. She conceived reproduced etc. The biological process of pregnancy does not leave a woman related biologically to another woman’s child. When you say someone is a genetic mother you know that all genes are biological. That human biology and genetics are one in the same. All biology is genetic and inherited for that matter. Cellular biology always involves genes genetic and biological reproduction are the same.

    I thnk you are more talking about the body and it’s experiences during pregnancy which have nothing at all to do with motherhood once a child is born either social or biological. Pregnancy is something that happens prior to parenthood.

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  2. H

    I asked this question and, partly as a result of your response, I decided to have treatment at a reputable clinic in the Czech Republic. On their advice (& our preference), we had a single embryo transfer and we were successful on our first attempt. I had a very healthy pregnancy and gave birth to our little girl just before Christmas. I’m so lucky it worked out for us. I was beginning to think my dream of being a Mum would never come true. I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to respond to me, it helped me turn a difficult decision into the best decision I ever made.

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