Children born via surrogacy or egg or sperm donation ‘should be told when young’

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Children born via surrogacy or egg or sperm donation should be told of their biological origins before they start school, academics have said.

A 20-year study found that there is “no difference” in psychological wellbeing or quality of family relationships between children born by these types of assisted reproduction and those born naturally by the time they reach the age of 20.

But the findings suggest that parents should tell their children about the way they were conceived early – ideally before they start school, experts said.

Academics from the University of Cambridge set out to examine the long-term effects of different types of so-called third-party assisted reproduction (egg or sperm donation and surrogacy).

The team examined survey and interview responses from 65 assisted reproduction families, including 22 surrogacy families, 17 egg donation families and 26 sperm donation families, and compared them with responses from 52 families who conceived naturally.

Researchers found that only 42% of sperm donor parents disclosed by age 20, compared with 88% of egg donation parents and 100% of surrogate parents.

But they found that there were no differences between the assisted reproduction and unassisted conception families in mothers’ or young adults’ psychological wellbeing, or in the quality of family relationships.

The authors of the paper, which has been published in the journal Developmental Psychology, said that young adults who learned about their biological origins before the age of seven had less negative relationships with their mothers, and their mothers showed lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Study lead author Professor Susan Golombok said: “Despite people’s concerns, families with children born through third-party assisted reproduction – whether that be an egg donor, sperm donor or a surrogate – are doing well right up to adulthood.

“There does seem to be a positive effect of being open with children when they’re young – before they go to school – about their conception.”

She added: “Today there are so many more families created by assisted reproduction that it just seems quite ordinary.

“But 20 years ago, when we started this study, attitudes were very different – it was thought that having a genetic link was very important and without one relationships wouldn’t work well.

“What this research means is that having children in different or new ways doesn’t actually interfere with how families function. Really wanting children seems to trump everything – that’s what really matters.”

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