Statement from Dr John Waterstone

The Children and Family Relationships Bill has been described by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as the most important change to family legislation in the history of the state.

This may indeed be true in many of the areas it seeks to address, but where the issue of egg and sperm donation is concerned, the bill is restrictive, poorly researched and carries harsh consequences for the many thousands of couples in this country affected by fertility issues.The legislation will introduce an outright ban on anonymous egg and sperm donation. A National Donor Conceived Person Register is to be set up and all couples who have a donor-conceived baby are to be singled out and forced to have their personal details entered in that register. Their donor-conceived children are to be similarly singled out, identified and entered in the same register. The State will make donor-conceived children aware of their genetic origins by informing those children (often against the wishes of their parents) that they were conceived through the use of donor sperm or eggs when they apply for a birth certificate at age 18 or older.

The belief that a donor-conceived child has a right to identify and meet his or her donor, which supersedes the rights of the parents to privacy and autonomy, is arbitrary and unproven. Some countries (Spain, Czech Republic, France, South Africa) enforce anonymity, other countries (UK, Australia, Canada) enforce non anonymity, while others (USA) allow either. The view of Waterstone Clinic coincides with that of the ethicist Guido Pennings – we are neither for nor against donor anonymity because both positions are acceptable. We are totally opposed to the State intervening in decisions about donor anonymity. Both donors and recipients should be allowed opt for either anonymous or identifiable donation as they see fit. In short, we are for choice.

It is uncertain how this bill will impact on egg donation, almost all of which takes place abroad. Egg donation is required to be anonymous by law in Spain and the Czech Republic, which are the most common destinations for Irish couples needing donor eggs. Is the State going to prevent Irish couples from pursuing treatment in Spain and the Czech Republic where the identification of donors will not be possible?

The bill essentially criminalises anonymous egg and sperm donation, setting out the maximum fine as €70,000, and the maximum jail sentence as two years. Is the State going to criminalise assisted reproduction clinicians who respect the rights of couples to make an autonomous decision to pursue anonymous egg donation abroad and assist them in the process? Does the State require clinicians to become State spies and inform upon patients who have become pregnant after anonymous egg donation abroad and who wish to conceal that fact (even though the ethical viewpoint of those clinicians may be that anonymous egg donation is an acceptable choice)? Who are the legal parents of a donor-conceived child whose name does not appear on the registry because its parents have avoided identification?

It is the view of Waterstone Clinic that the Children and Family Relationships Bill, as it relates to assisted reproduction is unacceptable and unworkable. Its fundamental premise is arbitrary and coercive. The register it proposes represents an intrusion into the private lives of subfertile couples and stigmatises them and their children. Such a register would, in practice, be hopelessly incomplete because the great majority of egg donation couples would continue to seek anonymous donor treatment abroad – as they do now.

We request that the Oireachtas rejects this bill and reverts to the original plan for two stage assisted reproduction legislation, the first part consisting of (and only of) an unambiguous specification of legal parenthood for all children born in Ireland after donor conception or surrogacy, in any country, with or without donor anonymity. A very lengthy consultation process should follow, leading to the drafting of comprehensive assisted reproduction regulatory legislation. This consultation process should seek the views of the patients whose lives will be impacted by legislation and the clinicians, nurses and scientists who care for them. It should also seek the views of experts from outside the State with experience of regulatory systems which appear exemplary. Such viewpoints have not been sought thus far. Having waited so long for assisted reproduction legislation, surely we should take as long as is necessary to develop a satisfactory regulatory system.