20 August 2021
Generate Life Sciences has recently announced that it will now in a first-of-its-kind service provide DNA-based donor ancestry information at its donor sperm bank California Cryobank directly to would-be parents and donor-conceived children.
Prospective parents, including international clients in the UK, Australia, Canada and others, will be able to access DNA ancestry test results before selecting a sperm donor. Donor-conceived children will also be able to access this information to learn more about their genetic heritage. The DNA ancestry information will be available as percentages on a world map divided into 26 distinct regions and ancestral groups. This provides insight into where a donor’s ancestors came from. Additionally, a donor’s self-reported ancestry information can be accessed providing further complementary information about the donor’s experiences and cultural identity that may have been passed down for generations. Ethnicity results based on genetic testing can differ from expectations given widespread migration over generations and a donor’s self-reported ancestry may be more specific than one of the 26 groups that can be identified by the DNA Ancestry test. In combining the two, Generate Life Sciences reports that a more detailed picture of a donor can be offered to help with donor selection and provide more information for donor conceived children about their ancestry.
Jaime Shamonki, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Generate Life Sciences said on 4 August 2021:
“Millions of us have accessed our personal DNA-based ancestry reports, and we know donor-conceived children are often just as interested in knowing their own genetic heritage. Accessing direct-to-consumer ancestry services means sharing your most personal data with an online database, which may not appeal to many sperm donor-conceived families. Generate’s DNA ancestry test empowers our customers and their children to learn more about their donor’s biological origins without experiencing the privacy trade-offs typically associated with third party genetic databases. We’re excited to offer California Cryobank families additional valuable genetic information, and to do so in such a way that respects their privacy”.
Generate Life Sciences DNA ancestry test service adds to its existing expanded genetic carrier screening program (DNA Advantage) at California Cryobank and its paediatric screening panel (ReadyGen), aimed at helping families add further layers of protection for their children’s health. California Cryobank’s services also extend into regenerative health with its Cord Blood Advantage program, giving parents the opportunity to store their newborn child’s stem cells. In doing so, it further expands their offering from preconception into adulthood, reporting that it has already helped nearly one million families through newborn stem cell, genetic screening and healthcare technology services.
Law and regulation
This recent development marks the further intersection of DNA ancestry testing and genomic technology with assisted reproductive technology (ART) services. It further embeds genetic testing and genomic technology in ART and fertility treatment delivery. As this technological intersection continues to develop, it also brings into focus the need to think carefully about its deployment and regulation in fertility clinics and treatment around the world. There is an important continuum encompassing a progression of values and elements which needs to be identified, articulated, debated and regulated to ensure that the future of the fertility sector and the wider genomic, digital, scientific, healthcare, national security and economic implications are managed responsibly.
There is growing demand for DNA-testing and genomic technology applications are increasingly being applied in a range of settings, not just the fertility sector. These include personalised preventative and precision medicine, scientific research and development, forensic science, public healthcare to combat diseases like Covid-19, as well as influencing state politics and national security measures. At one end of the continuum is a wish for would-be parents and donor conceived children to know more about their donor’s biological and genetic origins and dispositions and personal traits. Prospective parents are increasingly aware and mindful of their future children’s health, wellbeing and life prospects and seek to secure and maximise this through ART and in their choice of genetic parent or donor. As genetic screening of prospective parents, donors, gametes, embryos and use of genomic technology builds and evolves, it is likely that this will further drive uptake of ART and genomic technology in future.
However, genomic technology and DNA testing will increasingly over time have the capability to not just provide increased genetic insight to combat and prevent the onset of serious genetic diseases. It will also increasingly have the capability to overcome infertility and influence and change our biological legacy so as to reduce ill-health in future generations or potentially make them more resistant to diseases or environmental factors or stronger and more athletic. This raises all sorts of legal challenges and issues about social justice, respect for human rights, prevention of discrimination, ethics, creation of designer babies and risks that this technology could be used in harmful ways that exploits those in vulnerable situations or deployed for economic gain, global ambition, power and influence.
We therefore need to think carefully about the rapidly developing intersection of genetic testing and genomic technology in ART and fertility treatment delivery and more widely. The actions and decisions made by fertility clinics, prospective parents, donors, donor conceived individuals as well as healthcare providers, scientists, entrepreneurs and investors and policy makers will influence and shape the future.
Specialist fertility and family law
This evolving landscape is also likely to intensify existing fertility and family trends, including:
- More delayed and later-life parenthood.
- Increased demand for egg, sperm and embryo freezing.
- More demand for fertility treatment and assisted conception.
- Greater uptake of modern and diverse family forms.
- More pressure on personal relationships and family life.
- Greater focus on posthumous conception.
Undergoing fertility treatment and building modern family forms increasingly requires prospective parents, donors, children and families to navigate a range of complex legal, practical and wider issues. This require careful consideration and proactive management to ensure the best outcome and minimise the challenging issues and pitfalls that can arise. Specialist fertility and family law advice helps effectively navigate many complex legal and wider issues, including:
- Issues associated with DNA-testing and genomics in family building and later life.
- Legal and practical options for those with rapidly declining age-related fertility (e.g. fertility preservation and maximisation, management of existing personal relationships and implications of using donor gametes).
- Difficulties with storage and use of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment in the UK (e.g. lack of consent and expiry of storage terms).
- Problems associated with import of frozen gametes and embryos into the UK for use in fertility treatment and surrogacy (e.g. due to anonymous and commercially obtained gametes and embryos which engage UK public policy restrictions).
- Issues with the export of frozen gametes and embryos abroad for use in fertility treatment and surrogacy (e.g. lack of consent and storage term difficulties).
- Unexpected death of a loved-one and issues associated with posthumous storage and use of eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment (e.g. due to an accident, illness including Covid-19).
- Legal issues and options associated with fertility preservation and maximisation.
- Issues associated with assisted conception using frozen gametes or embryos involving a known donor, co-parent or surrogate (e.g. legal parentage and parental responsibility, financial responsibility and dispute mitigation).
- Issues and problems associated with the care and upbringing of children following a dispute with an ex-partner, parent, donor or surrogate.
Need a fertility lawyer or a donor conception lawyer? If you would like to discuss your situation or you require specialist fertility and family law advice and assistance please contact Louisa by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone +44 (0)20 7965 8399.