Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 57–70 | Cite as

Narrative Identity in Third Party Reproduction: Normative Aspects and Ethical Challenges

  • Natacha Salomé Lima
Original Research


In the last few decades, assisted reproduction has introduced new challenges to the way people conceive and build their families. While the numbers of donor-conceived (DC) individuals have increased worldwide, there are still many controversies concerning access to donor information. Is there a fundamental moral right to know one’s genetic background? What does identity in DC families mean? Is there any relationship between identity formation and disclosure of genetic origins? These questions are addressed by analysing core regulatory discourse (ethical recommendations and codes of practice). This analysis shows that the notion of narrative identity is suitable for defining and answering these questions. This review analyses the meaning of resemblance in DC families and the way donors are selected following affinity-ties and discusses disclosure strategies and agreements. As a preliminary conclusion, it could be said that, in the field of third-party reproduction, knowing about the donor conception significantly contributes towards the development of a narrative identity and also serves as a moral basis for the child’s right to know.


Assisted reproduction Donor-conceived individuals Narrative identity Right to know Disclosure Anonymity–non-anonymity 



The first draft of this review was presented within the frame of the Erasmus Mundus Master of Bioethics scholarship, granted by the European Commission. I am very grateful to Prof. Kris Dierickx and Prof. Pascal Borry who provided valuable feedback. I would like to thank Chantal De Keersmaecker for her support and care during my stay at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Law, KU Leuven. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and remarks, which helped improve this article. My gratitude also goes to my colleague and friend Anamika Chatterjee for her engagement in my work and precise proofreading. Last but not least, to my loving mother who took care of my child while I finished this review.

Supplementary material

11673_2017_9823_MOESM1_ESM.doc (42 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 42 kb)


  1. Adlan, A.A., and H.A. ten Have. 2012. The dilemma of revealing sensitive information on paternity status in Arabian social and cultural contexts. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 9(4): 403–409.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. ASRM. Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 2013. Informing offspring of their conception by gamete or embryo donation: A committee opinion. Fertility and Sterility 100(1): 45–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker, G., A. Butler, and R.D. Nachtigall. 2005. Resemblance talk: A challenge for parents whose children were conceived with donor gametes in the USA. Social Science & Medicine, 61(6): 300–1309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blake, L., P. Casey, J. Readings, V. Jadva, and S. Golombok. 2010. “Daddy ran out of tadpoles”: How parents tell their children that they are donor conceived, and what their 7-year-olds understand. Human Reproduction 25(10): 2527–2534.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Brewaeys, A. 1996. Donor insemination, the impact on family and child development. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 17(1): 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Council of Europe. 1997. Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine: Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. European Treaty Series—No. 164. Oviedo, 4.IVGoogle Scholar
  7. Daniels, K.R., and K. Taylor. 1993. Secrecy and openness in donor insemination. Politics and the Life Sciences 12(2): 155–170.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. DeGrazia, D. 2005. Human identity and bioethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. De Melo-Martín, I. 2014. The ethics of anonymous gamete donation: Is there a right to know one's genetic origins? Hastings Center Report 44(2): 28–35.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Freeman, T. 2015. Gamete donation, information sharing and the best interests of the child: An overview of the psychosocial evidence. Monash Bioethics Review 33(1): 45–63.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Golombok, S., J. Readings, and L. Blake, et al. 2011. Children conceived by gamete donation: Psychological adjustment and mother-child relationships at age 7. Journal of Family Psychology 25(2): 230.Google Scholar
  12. Golombok, S., L. Blake, P. Casey, G. Roman, and V. Jadva. 2013. Children born through reproductive donation: A longitudinal study of psychological adjustment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 54(6): 653–660.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Greenfeld, D.A., 2002. Changing attitudes towards third-party reproductive techniques. Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology 14(3): 289–292.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Grunwald, A., 2014. The hermeneutic side of responsible research and innovation. Journal of Responsible Innovation 1(3): 274–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hershberger, P., S.C. Klock, and R.B. Barnes. 2007. Disclosure decisions among pregnant women who received donor oocytes: a phenomenological study. Fertility and Sterility 87(2): 288–296.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Jadva, V., T. Freeman, W. Kramer, and S. Golombok. 2009. The experiences of adolescents and adults conceived by sperm donation: Comparisons by age of disclosure and family type. Human Reproduction 24(8): 1909–1919.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Kirkman, M., 2003a. Egg and embryo donation and the meaning of motherhood. Women & Health 38(2): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. _____. 2003b. Parents’ contributions to the narrative identity of offspring of donor-assisted conception. Social Science & Medicine 57(11): 2229–2242.Google Scholar
  19. _____. 2002. What's the plot? Applying narrative theory to research in psychology. Australian Psychologist 37(1): 30–38.Google Scholar
  20. Kovacs, G.T., S. Wise, and S. Finch. 2015. Keeping a child’s donor sperm conception secret is not linked to family and child functioning during middle childhood: An Australian comparative study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 55(4): 390–396.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Lalos, A., C. Gottlieb, and O. Lalos. 2007. Legislated right for donor-insemination children to know their genetic origin: A study of parental thinking. Human Reproduction 22(6): 1759–1768.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Mac Dougall, K., G. Becker, J.E. Scheib, and R.D. Nachtigall. 2007. Strategies for disclosure: How parents approach telling their children that they were conceived with donor gametes. Fertility and sterility 87(3): 524–533.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Malek, J. 2006. Identity, harm, and the ethics of reproductive technology. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 31(1): 83–95.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Mamo, L. 2005. Biomedicalizing kinship: Sperm banks and the creation of affinity-ties. Science as Culture 14(3): 237–264.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. McAdams, D.P., and K.C. McLean. 2013. Narrative identity. Current Directions in Psychological Science 22(3): 233–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nachtigall, R.D., G. Becker, S.S. Quiroga, and J.M. Tschann. 1998. The disclosure decision: Concerns and issues of parents of children conceived through donor insemination. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 178(6): 1165–1170.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2013. Donor conception: Ethical aspects of information sharing. London.Google Scholar
  28. Pennings, G. 2014. Donación anónima y no anónima: Pros y contras [Anonymous and non-anonymous donation: Pros and cons]. In Reproduccion humana asistida: Aspectos juridicos, soicales y psicológicos, edited by G. Baccino, 301–319. Tirant Humanidades.Google Scholar
  29. _____. 1997. The “double track” policy for donor anonymity. Human Reproduction 12(12): 2839–2844.Google Scholar
  30. Raes, I., A. Ravelingien, and G. Pennings 2016. Donor conception disclosure: Directive or non-Directive counselling? Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 13(3): 369–379.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Ravelingien, A., V. Provoost, and G. Pennings. 2015. Open-identity sperm donation: How does offering donor-identifying information relate to donor-conceived offspring’s wishes and needs? Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 12(3): 503–509.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Ravelingien, A., and G. Pennings. 2013. The right to know your genetic parents: From open-identity gamete donation to routine paternity testing. The American Journal of Bioethics 13(5): 33–41.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Readings, J., L. Blake, P. Casey, V. Jadva, and S. Golombok, 2011. Secrecy, disclosure and everything in-between: Decisions of parents of children conceived by donor insemination, egg donation and surrogacy. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 22(5): 485–495.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Rodino, I.S., P.J. Burton, and K.A. Sanders, 2011. Donor information considered important to donors, recipients and offspring: An Australian perspective. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 22(3): 303–311.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Schaffer, J.A., and R. Diamond. 1993. Infertility: Private pain and secret stigma. In Secrets in Families and Family Therapy, edited by E. Imber-Black, 106–120. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  36. Shehab, D., J. Duff, L.A. Pasch, et al. 2008. How parents whose children have been conceived with donor gametes make their disclosure decision: Contexts, influences, and couple dynamics. Fertility and Sterility 89(1): 179–187.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Strathern, M. 2003. Still giving nature a helping hand? Surrogacy: A debate about technology and society. In Surrogate Motherhood: International Perspectives, edited by R.Cook, S.D Sclater, and F. Kaganas, 281–296. Oxford: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  38. Swierstra, T., 2015. Identifying the normative challenges posed by technology’s “soft”impacts. Etikk i praksis-Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics 9(1): 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. 2015. Code of practice, 8th ed. London.Google Scholar
  40. Turner, A.J., and A. Coyle. 2000. What does it mean to be a donor offspring? The identity experiences of adults conceived by donor insemination and the implications for counselling and therapy. Human Reproduction 15(9): 2041–2051.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. UNESCO. 2005. Universal declaration on bioethics and human rights. Records of the General Conference. October, 2005.Google Scholar
  42. United Nations. 1989. Convention on the rights of the child. Treaty Series, 1577, 3.Google Scholar
  43. Warnock, M. 1986. A question of life. The Warnock report on human fertilisation and embryology. Oxford: B Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Psicología, Práctica Profesional 824 El Rol del Psicólogo en el Ámbito de las Tecnologías de Reproducción Humana AsistidaBuenos AiresArgentina
  2. 2.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET) – Universidad de Buenos Aires, Instituto de Investigaciones en PsicologíaBuenos AiresArgentina

Personalised recommendations