​Sperm & egg donations increasing risk of incest, Cambridge academic warns

Reuters / Alessia Pierdomenico
The upsurge in children conceived by donors is increasing the chances of inadvertent incest a Cambridge professor fears. She claims it “can be avoided” if offspring are made aware of their birth process at an early age.

More donor conceptions are taking place in the same regions, thereby increasing the chance of half-siblings meeting and beginning sexual relationships while completely unaware they are related.

Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, Professor Susan Golombok says the risks of incest are “extremely worrying.”

In March, Golombok published her 40-year research on parents and children in “new family forms” in a book called ‘Modern Families’.

Her study focused on the lives of children from assisted reproduction families and families with two same-sex parents.

It revealed that children born from ‘new family forms’ are likely to be happier later in life because their parents went through tough measures to get them and will often be determined to ensure they have a caring and positive upbringing.

However, parents must inform their children of the nature of their birth from a young age, Golombok suggests.

Evidence in her research indicates this could help avoid distress for offspring later in life and encourages a stronger mother-child relationship.

Speaking at the Hay Festival on Sunday, Golombok admitted her research downplayed the amount of inadvertent half sibling relationships.

She said her research on modern families failed to investigate the fact that many donor-conceptions happen in similar areas, making it easier for young people to meet at school or in their home towns.

Nevertheless, Golombok says this is a limited issue in the UK as laws constrict the amount of babies created per donor to 10.

She told the Telegraph it is a “big worry” that children may enter relationships with their half siblings and be unaware of it.

Despite the risk of more incest cases, Golombok says “various calculations have been made about how likely or unlikely it is, and most of these say it is unlikely to happen.”

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Golombok says the calculations “don’t take into account that these children often live in a community and are the same age and may even go to the same schools and so on.”

I don’t know what the actual chances are but it’s probably higher than people think,” she told the paper.

In order to avoid inadvertent sexual relations with half-siblings, children should be told they were born from a donor to “move towards greater openness.”

If people know they’re donor-conceived at least they will be primed to this possibility,” she added.

In 2011, a British sperm donor fathered 17 families, raising the risk of offspring meeting a half-sibling and pursuing an inadvertently incestuous relationship.

Commenting on this case, Joseph Quintavalle of Comment of Reproductive Ethics told the Sunday Times: “There is a real danger in a small country like the UK for donor-conceived children to meet up unknowingly with half-siblings.

Golombok says the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority allows 16-year-olds to discover if the person they wish to have a sexual relation with is related to them.