Joanna Rose, born from donor conception, speaks of the pain of not knowing who her biological father is. Photo: Matthew MirabelliJoanna Rose, born from donor conception, speaks of the pain of not knowing who her biological father is. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Whenever she looks in the mirror, Joanna Rose feels a sense of pain at not resembling her family.

The mother of two will not give up trying to find the man who passed on her facial features when her parents opted for sperm donation 43 years ago.

“Every time I look in the mirror, I don’t look like anybody in the family that raised me.

“Luckily, my two-year-old girl and four-year-old boy have my same features and it’s the first time in my life that I’ve seen those features in other people,” Dr Rose, who is in Malta from the UK to talk about reproductive technology and donor conception, told this newspaper yesterday.

Dr Rose, who has a doctorate in the subject, was eight when she was told that the man who raised her was not her biological father. She later discovered she had been conceived using sperm from a clinic, where most of the donors were medical students.

In 2002, she won a seven-year human rights test case in the High Court, which led to legislation stopping anonymous donation in British clinics.

The case also sparked the setting up of a retrospective gene library, a central register of donors and offspring.

For the past 20 years, Dr Rose has been saying that sperm or egg donation is emotionally painful and biologically dangerous for the offspring.

One of her best friends, also conceived through sperm donation, passed away in 2013 from bowel cancer after 15 years searching for her biological father.

Narelle Grech, who even chose the second name for Dr Rose’s daughter, spoke to the Times of Malta in 2011 after being diagnosed with advanced cancer.

Ms Grech, whose parents were born in Malta, had been determined to find the man who could shed light on her genetic and medical history.

Dr Rose explained that Ms Grech’s biological father was traced by the authorities on compassionate grounds and the two met six weeks before she passed away.

I don’t look like anybody in the family that raised me

“They hit it off immediately. For many of us, the craving to meet our genetic father is there all our lives. I know this from experience and research,” Dr Rose said, adding that she also craved knowledge about her heritage.

Asked about the local IVF debate, she says the law is a good one as it stands, while expressing a strong stand against donor conception and surrogacy.

Dr Joanna Rose and Narelle Grech were best of friends. Photo provided by Joanna RoseDr Joanna Rose and Narelle Grech were best of friends. Photo provided by Joanna Rose

Drawing parallels with adoption, which could also be a case of unknown parenthood, Rose believes that whether it is adoption or donor conception, there will always be pain in people separated from their genetic parents.

However, while adoption was about child protection, donor conception was about child production. “If it’s done for child protection, adoption is an understandable intervention, but even adoption is a last resort and the child is often offered to extended family.

“Sperm and egg donation doesn’t remove the child from the parent as a last resort for its protection. It removes a genetic parent for child production.”

As a child conceived from donation, she explains that the situation was emotionally complicated because donor conception was a means to an end for the family that raised her.

“When you’re adopted, your genetic family loss has nothing to do with the family that raised you, but when it comes to donor conception, your loss was commissioned for their gain.”

Dr Rose acknowledged that infertility was a legitimate pain, however, no matter the empathy, if it was not in the interest of the child, it should not be funded and facilitated as a service. “The inability to have your own genetic child is equal to the inability of having your own genetic parent. If one person has a loss, you cannot create the same sized loss for the next generation as a means to an end.”

 

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