Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Population

JAPAN: Children Born through Artificial Insemination Speak up

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Dec 28 2003 (IPS) - When Haru, a 22-year-old graduate student, was told by her mother that she was the product of artificial insemination, her world fell apart.

”I was devastated to learn that my father was not my biological parent,” Haru (not her real name) writes in one of Japan’s numerous Internet sites on the subject. ”I stopped graduate school because I couldn’t concentrate on my studies. I couldn’t sleep, and the worst part was not being able to relate any more to the man who I had called Dad till now.”

In another message on the same site, a 24 year-old man writes, ”I felt deep hatred toward my parents when I was told the truth. I felt cheated and lost. I believe, as a child who was born after fertility treatment, that it is my right to know my roots by being told who my biological parents are.”

These sentiments represent the voices of offspring born through artificial insemination donors or AIDs in Japan.

The law at present offers complete secrecy for donors to such procedures. Sweden is one of the few countries that allow children to right to know. In the United States, the situation depends on state laws.

But the demands by these young Japanese adults, called AID children, reflect difficult issues emerging in a society that is increasingly dealing with high rates of infertility by making available to childless couples sophisticated reproduction technology.

One in five couples are reported to be seeking infertility treatment in Japan, which has a birth rate of slightly over one child per woman. In-vitro fertilisation, where children are born from donated sperm or fertilised eggs, is the most popular fertility method.

But the joy of finally having a baby has been accompanied by new problems that combine legal, emotional, cultural and other issues.

”There is no easy answer to AID children,” says obstetrician Yasunori Yoshinori, an expert on reproductive technology at Keio University. ”While I agree that children have the right to know their biological parents, the reality is such that disclosure will only lead to huge problems.”

As it is, Yoshinori says, problems arise if and when a donor decides to claim a child as his or hers. Other complicated issues involve claims to inheritance, for instance.

The Ministry of Health reports that AID births have been reported since the mid-seventies in Japan. While statistics record about 10,000 such children, the numbers could be much higher.

”There is no correct record on the number of AID children as laws now do not stipulate that parents and doctors record such births. We contend the actual numbers could be between 100 to 200 a year,” says Tomoko Kashiwage, a director in the infertility section at the ministry.

A recent government-led study on the issue has also centred on the psychological scars of AID children. Experts are now supporting the passage of a law in 2004 that would allow children above 15 years the right to the disclosure of personal details of donors of sperm and eggs in their birth.

Ryoko Suzuki, a member of Finrage Association, a civic group lobbying for a choice-based approach in treatments for infertile women, agrees that Japan must move quickly to ensure that children born through artificial insemination have the right to learn about their donors.

”The welfare of the child must get top priority in the ongoing debate,” explains Suzuki. ”A child’s identity is based on its roots, which are his or her natural parents.”

Proponents of this viewpoint say that the new law must allow full disclosure when identifying the donor – this, they say, is the only way AID children can be satisfied.

They point to surveys that indicate almost all children face problems between mild confusion to deep depression when they accidentally find out the truth about their conception.

But parents who have resorted to artificial insemination are adamantly opposed to disclosure. A survey conducted by the government in October showed 97 percent of couples saying that they are against informing their children how they were conceived.

”The issue is particularly challenging in Japan, where blood lineage is firmly entrenched in culture. As well, sterility is a stigma in this country, which is why infertile couples face a huge pressure to conceal artificial insemination,” explains Yoshinori.

Indeed, donor births are causing headaches for authorities who are grappling with new definitions of parent-child relationships, given national laws that recognise biological parents as the legal fathers and mothers.

Thus in Japan, a donor is considered the legal parent. To get over this hurdle, couples acquire legal parentage by following an official procedure where they must recognise the birth of a child as their own.

Currently, the Justice Ministry is being taken to court by a Japanese couple in their mid-fifties, whose twin baby boys born in California to a surrogate mother last year was refused Japanese citizenship because nationality laws here do not recognise surrogacy.

”We want the whole parent-child relationship reviewed in Japan,” says Yasunao Kondo, the father of the children.

Fertility experts warn that a new law that would force parents to inform children of details of their conception through reproductive technology could lead to a drop in donors and thus badly damage chances for infertile parents to have a child.

Against such a backdrop, experts are calling for a thorough discussion aimed at informing the public better about AID children and their right to disclosure.

”The issues of parent-child relationships, privacy and discrimination against sterility must be openly discussed before new laws are established,” points out Suzuki. ”The debate represents a totally new concept in Japanese culture.”

 
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