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Accepted Paper:

‘Best to let sleeping dogs lie’  
Jennifer Speirs (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

The absence of an apology does not necessarily imply the denial of responsibility. Defining or reframing past actions and policies as justifiable at the time are ways of accepting some responsibility whilst trying to avoid contemporary demands to apologise.

Paper long abstract:

The use of anonymously-donated semen (DI) as a strategy for circumventing male infertility has been practised in the UK since the late 1930s. In order to protect everyone with a personal and professional involvement, the clinics kept the identity of the donors from the recipients and destroyed the donors’ records.

The doctors who pioneered the development of the services were aware that anonymous DI was viewed publicly as a challenge to the moral edifice of the family. It was described as adultery and the child was illegitimate yet the doctors continued to provide the services despite opposition from other colleagues and from other quarters such as law and religious bodies. Their good intention was to provide a medical solution to childlessness, to help desperate childless couples to become parents. Responsibility for dealing with any long term implications was strategically avoided, firstly by recruiting the type of donor whose semen was presumed to be less likely to pass on disease or genetic defects, and secondly by discouraging any sense of connection between donors and recipients. The mother of the child and her husband were told to keep the matter a secret.

Anonymised donation is now legally forbidden in the UK although some doctors are not convinced that it should be, believing that anonymity is in everyone’s best interests. They keep silent in order to avoid the wrath of the activist donor-conceived people who blame them and their own parents for colluding in denying access to their genetic origins.

Panel Mora06a
Retrospective regrets and contemporary apologies I
  Session 1 Monday 29 March, 2021, -