Aim of the project

What is the goal of this project?

We interviewed parents of donor-conceived children, their offspring, patients seeking donor conception treatment, and (to some extent) also donors. With these interviews, we wanted to retrieve their unique views on parenthood and medically assisted reproduction. The global goal of the project was to gain an in-depth analysis of the moral reasoning on and personal experiences with these topics by those who are most involved, so to help inform ethics and policy. We focused primarily on the questions how these people perceive and interpret parental responsibilities and competencies, and how their individual and social context shapes these interpretations.

In the interviews with the participants, the following topics were discussed:

  • the genetic versus non-genetic (social, psychological) tie between parents and children;
  • the moral rights and responsibilities of the actors (the deontological points);
  • the welfare of all people involved (depending on the characteristics of the family type and parental competencies) and especially the best interest of the child (the utilitarian points);
  • and how these perceptions affect decisions made by candidate parents.

The following participants were included:

  • aspiring parents (in treatment): lesbian couples using donor sperm, heterosexual couples using donor gametes (sperm and oocyte donation) and heterosexual couples using own gametes;
  • parents (post-treatment): lesbian and heterosexual couples who used donor sperm, heterosexual couples who used anonymous and known donor oocytes, and couples of transsexual men (FTM) with a female partner who used donor sperm;
    (All couples had at least one child aged 7 to 10 at the time of the interview).
  • offspring of the participants of the recipient group, who consented to their children’s participation;
  • donors: known oocyte donors of whose recipients consented to having their donor contacted by us.


What method was used?

The data was gathered through interviews using a qualitative research method. The researchers focused on clarification of the concepts and on how these concepts are related to the different normative ethical theories. The interviews were designed to provide a better understanding of how the people involved perceive the different moral statuses, responsibilities and competencies related to donor conception. The data was analysed through thematic analysis and the results were compared with the literature to complent existing theoretical models of parenthood.

Why an empirical bioethical approach?

A considerable part of new Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) use donor gametes, i.e., sperm or eggs of a person who will not be a future parent. The application of these techniques raises numerous ethical questions. Mainstream ethics tries to provide answers regarding the acceptability of the applications by referring to moral rules and principles derived from and justified in normative theories. The main reproach against this approach lies in the ‘abstractness’ of normative reasoning. As a consequence, proposed normative sets of principles frequently do not guide the behaviour of people and/or are not accepted as moral by the persons involved.

Several positions can be adopted to solve this conflict but the approach defended in this project starts from the conviction that the existing rules ignore some elements that are considered morally relevant by the candidate parents. Normative guidelines can and should be adapted on the basis of a better understanding of the moral reasoning of the people involved.