Saturday, March 24, 2007

Give A Toss: Further Reactions

no. 344

In response to my post 342 I received the following e-mail from Eric Blyth, who co-authored the BioNews commentary on the Give A Toss Campaign. I have published the full text of the commentary on the Annex as well as an earlier BioNews October 2006 commentary discussing earlier efforts at increasing the number of donors in the UK following the law change abolishing donor anonymity.

Hi Eric

We met in Toronto in 2005 at a conference organised by Diane Allen you may recall.

I am one of the authors of the BioNews commentary that is critical of the NGDT "Give A Toss" campaign.

I tried to contribute a comment on your blog, but it required a Google password that I don't have.

Clearly, we have different views on the "Give A Toss" campaign. Fair enough, it's a free world. Like you I don't believe the campaign set out to disrespect people, but that's what it does.

I was also sorry to see that you had chosen to repeat that assertion that:

"the switch disallowing donor anonymity in the UK resulted in a severe drop in men donating sperm for use by couples and individuals looking to conceive children."

"All" reports do not confirm this, as we pointed out in the BioNews Commentary.

Had you undertaken more thorough research before making your own comments you would have found otherwise.

We also drew attention to the work that has been undertaken in Manchester to recruit identifiable donors to positive effect.

Yours Sincerely
Eric Blyth CQSW BA MA PhD
Professor of Social Work
University of Huddersfield

I will admit I am no expert in the determination that the law abolishing donor anonymity was the sole cause, the leading cause, or even a contributing factor in the drop in the number of UK donors. My printing the statement refered to was prompted by reactions I received from reading many UK news articles online (tabloid and mainstream media) and even the comments I believe from Richard's blog that no donors were to be found anywhere in Britian.

As for my views of the campain I believe I made it clear that while I was amused at the concept I had felt it was a risky venture and I recognized that the campaign could be / would be offensive to some. I also stated that it appeared that the NGDT took on this tack only because they felt alternative efforts were not working. The October 2006 BioNews commentary referred to above and in the current BioNews commentary the writers (Eric Blyth and Irene Ryll) apparently feel and point to proof that alternative do exist and have worked. Not being part of the NGDT I can't say how their decision was made to go ahead with Give A Toss just that they did and felt warranted to do so. I still think it was a gutsy move as they must have realized the possible impact.

In the last day since I posted my initial reactions to the Give A Toss campaign I traded emails with Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network as I wanted her reaction to the campaign and the site. In short her reaction was one of fear that the site and the NGDT campaign may have set back by years the work done (by the DCN, the NGDT and others) trying to erase the stigma of what donating is seen as, the view of donors, and consequently the view of donor conceived persons.

It is this last part of the equation that I worry about I guess. If the current campaign results in additonal or reinforced stigna attached to the persons created by the DI process it becomes a question of was it worth it. Certainly for the added families who end up conceiving a child the answer for them will be yes but again that looks at the whole puzzle from the parents perspective and not the individuals created.

I am not trying to walk both sides of the fence here ...I am only trying to think things out as they hit me. I am certainly no professional pundit but I also realize as one of the few individuals who focuses his writing on the topic of donor conception this blog keeps coming up on Google searches on the topic and that requires me to record my views honestly and to write responsibly.


Unknown said...

I still say that whatever gets people talking about Sperm Donation is a good thing, be it crude humor or serious debate (ugh).

More exposure for the DI "sub-culture" will lead to a removal of the stigma... I'm convinced of that

Richard said...


I have yet to really post my opinion about the campaign other than to say that I'm generally in favour. I was asked my thoughts on the matter as the campaign was being developed and a lot of hard work has gone into pitching it at an 'appropriate' level. I should point out at this stage that I speak only for myself on the matter and as a father of DC twins I have an obvious bias.

That said, the shortage of donors, and the decision by the NGDT to launch what I recognise is a bold step to increase coverage of the problem here in the UK (and I challenge anyone who says that there is not a problem or that things have not been exacerbated by the change in the law).

More than anything I see this campaign as a way of increasing awareness that there is a problem and inviting a healthy and open discussion on the matter. As I see it, here in the UK we have a choice of either deciding that we accept that DC is an acceptable method of family creation or deciding that we do not. It was a bold step to end the anonymity of donors and one that I am a great supporter of, but the act of changing the law has had an impact and someone has to do something to improve the situation unless we wish to end the practice altogether.

I will not deny that some clinics have been successful in recruiting new donors since the change in the law, but two clinics throughout the country is not a realistic level of progress and the example that these clinics are setting is not being followed by the others because recruiting donors is not cost effective for these private businesses that have plenty of patients to treat that do not require donor gametes.

As I have said on more than one occasion, somebody needs to take responsibility for the fact that the change in the law has had such a negative impact and do whatever is necessary to boost donor numbers to the required level. And what is necessary is funding and advertising to raise awareness that this is a problem that affects the lives of thousands of real people every year.

The NGDT has taken a bold step and one that I’m sure that many do not approve of. But as an organisation that receives almost no funding or government support and tasked with recruiting donors and raising awareness they had to do something. Every day they receive enquiries from couples for whom a donor is the only way to have a family but for whom there is also little chance that a donor will be found. It is all very well pussyfooting around the subject matter, trying to avoid upsetting the sentimentalities of those that do not approve of DC in principle or to look at the present situation and say that the NGDT are undoing years of work to remove the stigma of donating when the current shortage of donors does not directly affect you.

The reality is that those many years of work have simply not delivered results. The DC Network has done sterling work in helping to get the law changed and remove the stigma attached to donor conception but I see little progress from it from the point of view of encouraging a national debate that will help the couples out there suffering from the current shortages.

The new campaign may not be to the liking of everyone but the reality is that it has put the story out there and the result is an increase in enquiries from people about becoming donors. As I see it the NGDT have put the story in the press and it’s now up to people like myself and organisations like the DC Network to put real faces behind it. Tomorrow I will be giving an interview to the Daily Mail to tell our story and encourage others to come forwards to donate. Without the campaign they would never have shown an interest.

It might be a cliché but I’m a firm believer that any news is good news. Time will tell if my beliefs are correct I guess.


DI_Dad said...

Richard - Thanks for the comment as a UK individual as I am two steps removed (place and kids already born). - Eric

DI_Dad said...

I figured to post this link here for a 3/26 Guardian article re Give a Toss:,,2042655,00.html

I am not sure if the Guardian is considered a tabloid or higher end newspaper but here it is. Both Olivia from the DCN and Eric Blythe are quoted with comments similiar to that reported in my posts.

The additional quote I found surprising was the following:

"Brian Lieberman, of Manchester Fertility Services, one of Britain's most successful clinics in recruiting donors, welcomed the new approach. "We have lost a lot of the students who used to donate sperm.""

One quote in the article that was interesting

Bea said...

The Guardian is considered one of the better papers.

I've thought a bit about this in the last few days, and I have to go with my original impression. The slogan places, at its centre, the idea of altruism in donation - of making a donation because you care, not because of money or egotism or whatever other motivation people may have. Sure, they've phrased it a little coarsely. But ultimately what the campaign says to me is, "Care enough about your fellow human beings to think about doing this".

I think that's a rather good message.


Elle said...

I've posted a reply on my own site.

Thanks for stimulating the discussion. Badly needed!!