Have donor registry for IVF to avoid genetic issues

Posed photo of a pregnant woman. PHOTO: ST FILE

Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Heng Hao in his Forum letter said that women receiving egg donation face psychological barriers (Menopausal women seeking IVF: Guidelines being worked out, Sept 28).

It is imperative that new legislation also addresses the psychological and ethical issues faced by sperm or egg donors, and donor-conceived offspring. With the Government lifting age restrictions on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, it is anticipated that there will be a steady increase in egg donation cases.

There are strong cultural taboos against incest; as such, sperm/egg donors often worry about accidental incest between their artificially-conceived offspring, as well as with their own natural children. This has deterred many would-be donors and causes a perennial shortage of sperm/egg donors in Singapore, an informal survey by news portal AsiaOne a few years ago showed.

This issue is not trivial, considering the well-documented phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction - sexual attraction between close relatives who first meet as adults. There have been several such reported cases of accidental incest between siblings who were separated at birth and adopted by different families.

Given Singapore's size and high population density, there are even greater chances of accidental incest.

Additionally, personal and familial health information about the sperm/egg donor should be shared. For example, many diseases can be inherited, such as breast cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Sperm/egg donors may develop these diseases later in life, or they may remain healthy, but their close relatives may be afflicted.

Moreover, the advent of DNA home-testing kits and online genealogy databases based on such DNA tests have made it more difficult to conceal from donor offspring the truth about their conception.

Hence the Ministry of Health should set up a centralised sperm and egg donor registry to manage the collection and sharing of such confidential information. Former sperm/egg donors can be prompted to regularly update the registry with their latest health information as well as that of their family members.

Non-identifying information, such as the number of children born per donor, their sex and year of birth, should be readily disclosed to sperm/egg donors, their conceived offspring and recipient parents to avoid accidental incest.

Indeed, this is already standard practice by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in Britain, and would certainly go a long way in allaying the fears that deter many potential sperm/egg donors.

Alexis Heng Boon Chin (Assoc Prof)

Peking University

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2019, with the headline Have donor registry for IVF to avoid genetic issues. Subscribe