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Marilyn Stowe on Sky News: the legal implications of sperm donation

Earlier today, I appeared on Sky News to talk about the legal implications of sperm donation in the wake of the latest report on Egg and Sperm Donation by the Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK’s independent regulator in this complicated area. In particular, the conversation highlighted the tricky area of legal liability if a donor chooses to go to an unlicensed clinic.

In 2013 HFEA licensed 75 clinics to provide Donor Insemination(DI) treatment and 77 clinics to provide In vitro fertilisation(IVF) using donated eggs, which is a rise from the 73 clinics licensed to provide these two services in 2012. The increase in clinics is good news for donors and prospective parents.

However, the number of new registered sperm donors going to approved clinics has declined year on year from 631 down to 586 and the number of sperm imports from other countries, predominantly the USA and Denmark has increased and now make up nearly a third of new registrations.

One implication is that currently, around three-quarters of UK registered donors self-identify as white British, with the next largest group classifying themselves as ‘other white’. There are obviously issues here for parents from other ethnicities searching for a donor through a HFEA licensed clinic.

There is no doubt that the issue of sperm donation and potential parents seeking donors is an emotive and complicated issue where the question of supply and demand may drive participants to make decisions that have far reaching implications that they had not considered.

The key thing to remember is that if a sperm donor goes through a UK clinic licensed and regulated by HFEA and donates to people he doesn’t know, he will not be the legal father of any potential child. This means he’s fully protected legally against financial and inheritance implications related to that child. On the other hand, if a donor chooses to go to an unlicensed clinic, often found by going online, he runs the risk of being named as the legal father which comes with financial implications, even if his name isn’t on the birth certificate.

A further emotional consideration for sperm donors and parents is that children may wish to find out more about their genetic inheritance. Children under 16 can ask their parents to apply to HFEA for data, or if the child is over 16 they can apply directly. The type of data available will vary depending on when conception occurred, as HFEA only has information for conceptions after August 1991.

If your child wishes to find out more, then they could find out information such as the donor’s physical description, when and where the donor was born and whether they had any children at the time of the donation. When the child reaches 18, there is a slim chance that they will actually be able to contact the donor, but this would only be possible if the donor has re-registered with current contact details with a HFEA clinic.

There is also the possibility that children may be able to find out information about any donor-conceived siblings they might have. If the child is 16 or over, they can find out general anonymous details such as gender and number of siblings as well as date of birth. Once the child is over 18, it may be possible to find out more detailed information about siblings including contact details, but only if both parties consent.

Again, this a complicated area, and made more so if sperm donors use a non-licensed clinic, since that HFEA would not have any records to provide to the child.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    You will remember that when the CSA was passed in 1990 men who had handed over their houses in place of all claims for maintenance were told that they could not contract out of their obligations and would have to start paying. (In 1991 they got a rather grudging reduction – instead of re-opening the settlement which is what should have happened).

    So what confidence can men who donate have that one fine day the Treasury will not see them as a sponge to be squeezed? If I had donated at any time during the last eighteen years and had anything to lose I would be afraid, be very afraid!

    And that’s quite apart from the risk you mention that one find day a stranger will walk up the path and call you Daddy, which could be a personal disaster even if there are no financial implications. Lifelong anonymity should never have been abolished.

  2. Yvie says:

    Apparently there is a shortage of sperm donors. That doesn’t surprise me one bit. What could possibly be in it for a potential donor. If the CSA thought they had any chance of persuading mothers to claim for sixteen years back maintenance they would be encouraging them to do it with a vengeance – after all, these dads would be ‘absent fathers’ and ‘non-compliant’ in their eyes.

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