Forum: Look into latest legal, ethical issues in egg, sperm donation

Posed photo of a pregnant woman. PHOTO: ST FILE

I thank the Ministry of Health (MOH) for its reply to my letter, which assured the public that it will continue to closely monitor developments in safeguards for sperm and egg donation (3 live births per sperm donor among safeguards against genetic issues, Oct 7).

There is increasing recognition worldwide that donor-conceived adults have inherent legal rights to information about their genetic heritage.

Numerous psychological studies and news reports have shown that "love is not enough" and donor-conceived adults often feel a deep empty void about their donor parent's genetic heritage, upon learning the truth about their conception.

This has sparked vigorous lobbying campaigns that have successfully abolished sperm/egg donor anonymity in many Western countries. Currently, France is debating a legislative Bill to abolish donor anonymity.

Due to differing socio-cultural conditions in an Asian country like Singapore, it may not be entirely appropriate to abolish donor anonymity.

Nevertheless, there should be recognition that donor-conceived adults have inherent legal rights to some information about their genetic heritage, in particular familial health information pertaining to genetically inherited diseases, such as breast cancer and neurodegenerative disease, which tend to manifest later during middle or old age.

Certainly, it is a prerequisite that sperm and egg donors are healthy at the time of their donation, but there is always the possibility that some of them may develop such diseases later in life. Hence, there must be an avenue to relay such health information to donor-conceived offspring, if former sperm/egg donors are willing to share such information, for example, through a donor registry.

With the increasing popularity of cheap DNA home-testing kits and associated genealogy websites, it has become increasingly difficult to conceal from donor-conceived adults the truth about their conception.

Because many such DNA testing companies are based overseas, this may circumvent legal requirements for consent in DNA testing within Singapore.

It is convenient for anyone with suspicions of his parentage to surreptitiously collect biological samples from his "presumed" parents without their knowledge and consent, and send them overseas for anonymous DNA testing.

MOH should consider such recent developments on the international stage for future policymaking regarding sperm and egg donation.

Alexis Heng Boon Chin (Dr)

Peking University

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2019, with the headline Forum: Look into latest legal, ethical issues in egg, sperm donation. Subscribe