DNA testing means donor conception secrets are being revealed

The increasing popularity of DNA ancestral testing such as 23andme and ancestry.com means that some people are finding out that they are not genetically connected with family members in the way that they may have thought. At the same time, there are those who have done DNA tests and found themselves matching with strangers whose relationship to them may be described as parent or half sibling.

DNA results that do not reflect a family picture that a person has always known can be confusing, distressing or misleading. For example, when DNA tests reveal a different biological father, a person may conclude that their mother has had an affair, when in fact their parents have had donor treatment or their dad has been a sperm donor.

People who undertake DNA tests may be approached by a person who was conceived by the same donor. VARTA has experience of people who have been informed of their donor conception as a result of DNA connections – and of others who have had to explain to someone why they are matching as a close biological relation.

Secrets are becoming harder to keep

Increasingly, secrets arising from donor treatment are becoming harder to keep. Parents need to be aware that their children may learn of their donor conception from DNA testing. Donors should understand that they can be identified through DNA and genealogical mapping, even if they have never provided a DNA sample themselves. The children of donors may also find themselves matching as siblings with their parent’s donor offspring.

New secrets on top of old

There are also people who have learnt of their donor conception through DNA testing who feel unable to tell their parents that they know the story of their conception. The secrets that parents kept from the children are then continued by the next generation, who choose to keep their new-found knowledge secret from their parents.

DNA matching happens even without your DNA sample

A person does not need to have done a DNA test in order to be identifiable. If enough people within their extended family structure have participated in DNA testing then a person can be identified as a genetic relation even if they have never provided their own DNA. This is particularly the case with sites that match DNA with family trees and other genealogical mapping.

The importance of talking to your family

For parents of adult donor-conceived, VARTA’s experience has been that most people who learn of their donor conception either from a DNA test, from an application from a donor to the Victorian Central Register, or through other methods have said they preferred knowing the truth. They are also very clear that their dad is still their dad.

Donor-conceived people understand that their parents needed treatment; that they were very much wanted; and that parents were advised not to tell. They also consistently say they would prefer to learn the news of their donor conception from their parents and not from another source.

Donors who have not told their families of their donation may find relief in opening up to their loved ones about old secrets.

VARTA provides information on why and how to tell donor-conceived adults about how they came to be – this information may also be helpful for donors who are unsure about how to have this conversation with their family. VARTA staff are also available to help people experiencing difficulty with having these sensitive discussions.

VARTA can help facilitate connections

It is not always easy to know how to proceed if you connect with unfamiliar biological relations following a DNA test. People who match in this way as a result of donor conception treatment in Victoria can use VARTA’s Donor Conception Register Services to help navigate this connection. VARTA staff are able to provide intermediary assistance to people who find others with whom there are genetically related as a result of donor treatment in Victoria.