Fertility treatment: Take steps to avoid accidental incest

Fertility treatment: Take steps to avoid accidental incest
Babies at KK Hospital.

AS CLINICAL assisted reproduction becomes more common in Singapore, there is a pressing need to confront ethics and health risks associated with this medical technology ("Court says 'no' to upkeep claim for IVF mix-up baby"; Jan 17 and "New private fertility centre opens in Singapore"; ST Online, Jan 21).

One thorny issue is the possibility of accidental incest between the offspring of sperm/egg donation.

In recent years, there have been increasing numbers of children born through assisted reproduction, which brings about an increased risk of incestuous marriages and casual sexual liaisons between donor-conceived siblings, as well as with the natural children of their sperm/egg donor parent.

Psychological studies have established the phenomenon of genetic sexual attraction - that is, sexual attraction between close relatives, such as siblings or half- siblings, who first meet as adults.

This risk could be further exacerbated in Singapore, given the country's small size and high population density.

Such outcomes could be avoided with some regulatory safeguards.

First, the Health Ministry should maintain a centralised registry of sperm/egg donors, children born of such donations, and natural offspring of donors.

Currently, only a registry of sperm donors exists at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Second, sperm and egg donors should be allowed access to non-identifying information on all children born from their donations, such as year of birth and sex.

This would allow donors to warn their natural children of the possibility of encountering their genetic half-siblings in their future relationships.

Indeed, such a policy is implemented by the human fertilisation and embryology authority in Britain.

Third, donor-conceived adults, their legal parents and the natural offspring of sperm/egg donors should also be allowed access to such non-identifying information on donor-conceived siblings.

If they suspect that a prospective spouse is genetically related through sperm/egg donation, the registry should allow them to verify whether or not this is the case.

I hope the ministry can consider these suggestions and take other appropriate measures to prevent such inadvertent and unintended incest.

This article was first published on Feb 4, 2015.
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