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"Gay sperm panic" unfounded, says fertility clinic

Mon 20 Mar 2006 In: Living Well View at Wayback View at NDHA

Gay sperm donors will not be required to disclose their sexual orientation to potential recipients, says Fertility Associates. The assisted reproduction clinic's medical director Dr Richard Fisher says donors are required to fill out a questionnaire that asks a number of personal questions, including religious affiliation and health status. Fertility Associates' recent decision to reverse a blanket ban on gay donors means sexual orientation will now also be questioned. However, donors can refuse to answer any of the questions listed. "From our point of view, being a donor is offering a gift," he told "You can offer a gift on any terms and conditions you wish. You can supply whatever information you wish, and the recipient makes their decision about whether to use that donor on the information in front of them.We don't go back and say ‘you haven't filled this out, we need more information'." The spectre of "gay sperm panic" was ignited in the media earlier this week by Christchurch geneticist Frank Sin, who believes that potential parents should be warned if their donor is gay, lest their children turn out the same. It's an opinion which puts Sin at odds with the vast majority of scientists, who believe that sexual orientation is determined by an as-yet unquantifiable mix of genetics and environment. Bruce Floyd, senior lecturer in biological anthropology at Auckland University, says Sin's comments make inappropriate assumptions. "We can't say with any confidence that 'this person happens to be gay, therefore this increases the chance that the offspring produced from the sperm will be gay'," he says. "I don't think the scientific evidence is strong enough to actually suggest that there's going to be an outcome depending on the identification of the donor." And while this debate rages on, Fertility Associates say they they'd rather be left out of it. Dr Fisher says he is "heartily sick" of the fuss being made over gay donors. "This is about an agreement between a donor and recipient at arm's length," he says. "I don't think it matters whether they're gay, heterosexual, or Catholic. It's a matter between those two parties, with us acting as an intermediary." If concerned potential parents question the clinic over whether a gay donor will produce gay children, they'll be told "we think it'll be extraordinarily unlikely," Fisher says. The genetic history of donors is documented, but current technology can only be used to flag obvious health-related flaws which are known to be inheritable. And even then, "because they [the donor] don't have a family history of carcinoma of the bowel doesn't mean the child won't get it. If the issue is genetics, we can't answer any question with any accuracy." The determination of sexual orientation in humans is far more complex. "For us to get into a discussion about the likelihood of there being a 'gay gene' is crazy because there might be a thousand genes which we're aware or unaware of," says Fisher. "It's not a discussion that I think we're ever likely to get into. People make their own decisions about those things, and we don't offer them advice about it either." Bruce Floyd remains unconvinced that sexual orientation should be disclosed to donors at all, saying it would be reasonable to conclude that in the current environment it would only serve to panic recipients. “The media should get away from the idea of a 'gay gene', because virtually no responsible scientist is suggesting there is a 'gay gene'," he says. "It has to be couched in terms of, a variety of genetic influences that interact in complex ways with the environment." Chris Banks - 20th March 2006    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Monday, 20th March 2006 - 12:00pm

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