The announcement Monday by a nonprofit organization that two women with ovarian problems produced fertile eggs via in vitro fertilization using eggs from anonymous donors is good news for those struggling with infertility, including patients suffering from Turner’s syndrome or experiencing menopause at a younger age.
But experts point out that Japan still lacks sufficient legislation on who will legally be the parents of the child born under such circumstances, which could cause trouble in the future.
Jiro Nudeshima, a researcher at Tokyo Foundation who is well-versed in bioethics, said he hopes the latest case will push authorities to map out sufficient legislation.
“If a problem arises, leaving it to those involved to solve it is just irresponsible,” Nudeshima said. “Asking a third person to donate eggs without sufficient legislation in place would mean that the child born from these cases will lack a stable legal status and that the rights of the child or the donor may not be protected.”
The current Civil Code is based on the presumption that a woman who gives birth to a baby is the biological mother. Judicial courts have also ruled that the woman who gives birth to a baby is the legal mother.
This could be a problem if the biological mother or the father — an egg donor or sperm donor — decides to claim the child.
To resolve the issue, a policy body of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party approved a draft bill in June stipulating that in the case where a child is born through surrogacy or in vitro using eggs donated by strangers, the woman who delivers the baby will legally be stipulated as its mother.
But in the case where a child is born through in vitro using a sperm donor, the husband will legally be stipulated as the father, the draft bill said.
The bill has not been passed by the Diet.
There is also the issue of emotional distress the child born from such cases may experience in the future.
Many children who were born in vitro using a sperm donor experience emotional suffering after becoming adults and learning about their identity. Under the current system, there is no way for the child to know about their biological father.
To address the issue, the Kobe-based Oocyte Donation Network, or OD-Net, which coordinated the latest cases, said it will notify children of their background when they reach school age. It will also disclose the information of the name and other donor information upon request when they reach 15. This would mean a child born under such circumstances may try to contact the biological father.
Thus, experts point out that a long-term psychological support and consultation is necessary to deal with emotional troubles the child or the biological parent may go through.
In January 2013, OD-Net, founded by doctors specializing in fertility treatment and patients’ representatives, opened Japan’s first ovum bank and started soliciting egg donations on an anonymous basis.
The group is headed by Sachiko Kishimoto, whose daughter suffers from Turner’s syndrome, a chromosomal condition with low function of the ovaries.
When the group called for egg donations, Kishimoto said they were worried if any volunteers would actually offer their eggs, as the treatment requires frequent visits to the clinic to undergo blood tests and other screening. Donors may also develop side effects such as swollen ovaries due to ovulation inducer shots.
OD-Net received between 230 and 240 inquiries, of which 27 ultimately registered as donors, according to Kishimoto.
The group managed to pair patients with 23 donors with adequate ovarian function and blood type, and who satisfied other conditions such as location of residence.
But in 13 cases either the donor or the patient decided to discontinue treatment due to poor health or disapproval by family members. Some patients also decided to pursue adoption or gave up attempting to have children, she said.
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