Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Should Genealogy Websites be BANNED because they ‘Threaten the Anonymity of Sperm Donors?’

The world today is struggling with learning to use advancing technology and also with all sorts of issues dealing with personal privacy. Sometimes those new ideas are diametrically opposed. For instance, which is more important: the right to learn about your ancestry, especially when inherited medical issues are involved, or the right to personal privacy?

<img class=”alignright size-full” src=”; width=”320″ height=”203″ />A bioethics expert at Ghent University in Belgium claims that personal privacy outweighs the right to know who your ancestors are.

Men in the United Kingdom were allowed to donate sperm anonymously until 2005 and could now have their identities discovered by people researching their family trees. This, according to Professor Guido Pennings, a bioethicist at Ghent University in Belgium, constitutes a violation of the father’s privacy. He made the comments in the scientific journal <a href=”; target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”><em>Human Reproduction</em></a>.

In the article in <em>Human Reproduction</em>, Guido Pennings writes:

<p style=”padding-left:30px;”>”Anonymity is a multifaceted term. Anonymity is rarely eternal or absolute. The use of genetic databases increases the risk of identification of previously anonymous donors. Searches through genetic databases jeopardize the privacy of people who did and did not register on them. Three types of searches can be distinguished in the context of gamete donation: offspring looking for their donor, offspring looking for donor siblings and donors looking for their donor offspring. All three types of searches violate the rights of recipients and donors. It is argued that despite the existence of genetic databases, anonymity maintains the same function as it had before: it expresses a wish for distance and privacy by both donors and recipients and, even if not enforceable, should be respected by all parties in good faith.”</p>
What do you think? You might read the article by Sam Blanchard in the <em>Daily Mail</em> at <a href=”; target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”></a&gt; and also the scientific article by Professor Guido Pennings in <em>Human Reproduction</em> at <a href=”; target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”></a&gt;. (Like most other scientific journals, access to H<em>uman Reproduction</em> requires payment.)

Categories: DNA, Offline Privacy & Security

1 reply

  1. “Respected by all parties in good faith”. Sounds reasonable until you actually consider ALL parties. To argue for equality in privacy without considering the third party without whom this discussion would be moot, is a fatal logic failure. While my parents may indeed be my earthly creators, once the creation act has been completed they have irrevocably given up sovereignty over any overlapping “personal” “rights” that they may try to “claim”.

    The author even concedes “Anonymity is rarely eternal or absolute”, yet argues a position which attempts to artificially shift the 3-way balance of equality in order to further conceal the (albeit sometimes painful) truth.


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