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Anonymity of egg and sperm donors

13 January 2011

A survey by Manchester Fertility Services highlights issues of privacy concerning egg and sperm donation.

The survey suggests that the public is divided on the issue: 59% of those surveyed believed that anonymity should be preserved, whilst 41% said that children should have the right to find their biological parent if they wished.

The right to medical confidentiality can sometimes clash with other rights and has done so in the area of egg and sperm donation.  Up until 1 April 2005, egg and sperm donors had a legal right to remain anonymous.  That was in conflict with the right of a donor-conceived individual to know about their genetic origins.  From 1 April 2005, everyone who has donated sperm or eggs is identifiable to children born as a result of their donation, once the child is 18 years of age.

The law relating to sperm and egg donation has changed over the last 10 years.  The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has a record of all births as a result of assisted conception in licensed UK fertility clinics from 1 August 1991 onwards.  However, the level of information obtained has changed over time.

For egg and sperm donations made between 1 August 1991 and 1 April 2005, the HFEA took the following donor information:

    • physical description (height, weight, eye and hair colour)
    • year and country of birth
    • ethnicity
    • whether the donor had any children at the time of the donation
    • any additional information (voluntary) such as occupation, religion, interests and a self-description

This information will be passed on to anyone over the age of 16 years born as a result of the donation if they request it.  The donor will not be identified unless the donor has re-registered with the HFEA as an identifiable donor.

For egg and sperm donations after 1 April 2005, the HFEA collected the following additional information about the donor:

    • the number of any other children and their gender
    • marital status
    • medical history
    • a goodwill message to any potential children
    • identifying information (name, date of birth, address)

Children conceived from sperm or eggs donated after 1 April 2005 may apply to the HFEA for all the non-identifying information once they reach 16 years of age.  The identifying information will be available to those of 18 years or more.

As a result of further legislative change in October 2009

    • 18 year old donor conceived people can make contact with their genetically related siblings (provided both parties consent).
    • 16 year old donor conceived children can access anonymous information about the donor and find out whether they have genetically related siblings.

The HFEA has a legal obligation to contact and forewarn donors if a donor conceived offspring has made a request for identifiable information.  However, the donor has no ability to prevent the disclosure being made.

There has also been some suggestion that the law change has resulted in a different type of donor coming forward.  In particular, in relation to sperm donation, the donors are more frequently in the 31 to 40 age group.  Opinions differ as to whether the removal of donors' anonymity has reduced the number of donors coming forward.  There remains an ongoing debate as to whether donors should receive payment for the donation.

See further section 9.4 of the Privacy Law Handbook

Survey by Manchester Fertility Services

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