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New Frontiers of Family - Seminar 3: Beyond genetic kinship: Donor conception, 11 May 2016, The Open University in Manchester

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Open University
Contact Provider
Greater Manchester
Researchers and academics with an interest in family
Exact location to be confirm. (Greater Manchester, United Kingdom)

This event is part of the series New frontiers of Family and will explore the following theme: Beyond the nuclear family: Conceiving of a non-nuclear family. It is is sponsored by the British Psychological Society and supported by The Open University, Birkbeck, University of London and the University of the West of England, Bristol.

Further details here:


Talk outlines

Keynote – Assisted fertility and its impacts on family formation (Professor Eric Blyth)

It is estimated that assisted fertility procedures have resulted in the birth of more than 5 million children worldwide since the first IVF birth in 1978. Most of these children have been conceived using the gametes of the adults who intend to raise them and have been gestated in the womb of their genetic and nurturing mother. However, modern technologies enable the sperm of any one man and the genetic material of any women (or of any two women) to be used to create one or more embryos that may be implanted in the uterus of any woman. The resultant child[ren] may be raised by any one or more parent who may be of either gender, and who may or may not be a genetic parent of the child - thus facilitating a diverse range of potential family forms, including where half- and fully- genetically related siblings may be born years apart and raised in different families. Provisions exist in some jurisdictions that enable a donor-conceived individual to access information about the existence and identity of other people to whom they may be genetically related as the result of gamete or embryo donation or surrogacy, although most of the world’s jurisdictions do not permit this. The presentation will provide an overview of the different family forms that may be established following gamete or embryo donation and what current research tells us about these forms of assisted fertility procedures.

Questions of kinship and genes: Donors, boundaries and tantalising knowledge (Dr Petra Nordqvist)

This paper explores genetic links in families of donor conceived children by focusing on how such families engage with and experience the genetic relationship between the donor conceived child and their donor. It might be assumed that the donor fades into insignificance once conception using donor eggs or donor sperm is achieved, and so can comfortably disappear out of the minds of parents and their children without trace. However, in a recent sociological study ‘Relative Strangers (with PI Carol Smart) at the University of Manchester, UK of family life after donor conception (2010-2013), we discovered that the genetic relationship to such ‘relative strangers’ continue to play on the minds of parents and their families, and it continues to shape family life, meanings and practices as children by donor conception grow up. In this paper I explore the meaning attributed to the donor relationship, and genetic relationships passing through him or her, in unknown donor arrangements (where the donor is unidentified to the parents and child) and known arrangements (where the donor is a family member or friend). Addressing these different donation practices, I suggest that donors represent a cultural unknown that require parents and their families to engage with an unimportant yet threatening, tantalising yet forbidden, potent yet unresolved aspect of their children’s lives and identities.

Embryo donation for family building: Troubling families? (Dr Naomi Moller)

Ongoing developments in assisted reproductive technologies continue to engender new pathways through which people experiencing infertility may conceive or birth children and these pathways may ‘trouble’ conventional genetic understandings of family. One such pathway involves donated ‘leftover’ IVF embryos. The number of children born as a result of embryo donation (ED) continues to grow both in the UK and internationally, and there is significant potential for further growth given the number of embryos in cryogenic storage globally (in the UK alone, up to over 60,000; HFEA, 2015). Yet despite growth in the use of ED, the experiences of embryos donors have received far less attention than sperm or egg donors. There is some research on: (a) disposition choices in relation to frozen embryos; (b) legal and ethical issues and frameworks; and a little on (c) parental practices in terms of disclosure of the ED children’s origins; and (d) the psychological functioning of children born as a result of ED (e.g. MacCallum & Keeley, 2008). In addition there is research on egg and sperm donation which focuses on how recipient families and donor-conceived children understand kinship (e.g. Nordqvist & Smart, 2014). However the lack of research focussed on the experiences and understandings of family and family well-being of either ED donor or recipient families means that itan open question how such families understand and negotiate their ‘troubled’ status. This paper outlines research on public understandings of ED and considers some potential consequences of this gap in the literature.

Family relationships and disclosure in embryo donation (Dr Fiona MacCallum)

Embryo donation is a treatment where an embryo created by the gametes of one couple is donated to another couple who then rear the resulting child. Conceiving a child through embryo donation results in a family structure where neither rearing parent is genetically related to the child, and indeed the child may have a full genetic family elsewhere, thus paralleling adoption in structure. However, unlike adoptive parents, embryo donation parents experience the pregnancy and birth of the child. The research to be discussed explores whether embryo donation families consequently resemble adoptive families or are more similar to families created through other types of ART, and what more generally are the effects of this method of family formation. Evolutionary psychology suggests that parental investment in children, and the subsequent quality of parenting, can be significantly affected by the genetic relationship. Thus, one question is does the complete lack of genetic links in embryo donation have adverse consequences for family relationships? With regard to the gestational relationship, there is some evidence showing psychological bonding of mothers to children begins prenatally. This gives rise to a second question; does the gestational link in embryo donation result in more positive family relationships than are present in adoptive families? Finally, the issue of disclosure of children’s genetic backgrounds will be considered. Do embryo donation parents follow the full disclosure model usually seen in adoption? Or are they more in line with gamete donation parents, many of whom have shown a reluctance to share this information? And where embryo donation parents are in favour of disclosure, exactly how, when, and what do they tell their children?


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