Ancestry websites should be ‘forbidden’

Ancestry websites run the risk of violating sperm donors’ privacy because of their DNA tests offering, an expert has claimed.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, Professor Guido Pennings, a bioethicist at Ghent University in Belgium, made the claim following recent developments in genealogy research. Websites increasingly offer DNA testing so people can trace their ancestry.

Until 2005, men in the UK could donate sperm anonymously. But if they, or members of their families carry out the tests, then their identities could be discovered by people using ancestry sites to research their family trees.

Violation of privacy

Professor Pennings says this constitutes a violation of the father’s privacy. Some donors are willing to be contacted by their biological children; however, those who aren’t might not be able to avoid being found online.

The professor said users violate privacy when they identified or contacted someone who wasn’t registered on the database. This, he said, was especially wrong for sperm donors because they had been promised anonymity. He added that if people used ancestry databases to find donors showed “disrespect and lack of gratitude”.

Professor Pennings made the comments in the scientific journal Human Reproduction.

If a child born from an anonymous sperm donor took a DNA test and traced their ancestry, it would be possible for him or her to find out who their biological father is if he or his relatives were already on the website. The donor child could then connect with biological siblings online, linking them back to the donor without him knowing.

Names added to family trees

If the father hadn’t registered, relatives might have added his name to a family tree.

Men in the UK can’t donate sperm anonymously anymore, and children conceived this way are allowed to find out their biological father’s identity. While the risk applies only to a tiny minority, the professor said control was “difficult if not impossible” if online genetic testing companies are located in jurisdictions that don’t ban such activities. The Times reported that the professor went as far as recommending that access to family history sites should be banned.

People who didn’t know they were conceived via donated sperm could also be contacted by biological siblings, which could cause distress and upset. However, other genealogist have argued Professor Pennings’ research doesn’t recognise the rights of donor-conceived individuals.



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