Anonymous sperm donors are a thing of the past in the UK. In 2005, a change in the law removed anonymity for donors. This means that when a child who was born as the result of a donation turns 18, they are allowed to access their donor’s information.
The Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority (HFEA) is the national regulator for sperm donation. They collect and store information about each donor. This includes, but is not limited to, a physical description, their marital status and if they had any other children.
Since the new rules were introduced, there has been a significant drop in the number of men who have registered to be donors. In fact, the national sperm bank which opened in Birmingham last year has a total of just nine registered donors according to the BBC. That’s not a typo. Nine.
The bank’s chief executive Laura Witjens says that those nine donors can help up to 90 families “who otherwise would have had to go abroad”, but they are not enough. She is planning a recruitment campaign to boost its numbers.
Could the change in the law have anything to do with such a low number of donors?
Ms Witjens argued that the strict requirements to become a donor are to blame. Men must have strong sperm to qualify, which means that some have been put off while others have been rejected once they applied, she said.
The recruitment process involves extensive tests of the sperm for quantity and quality. This follows each donor being screened for infectious diseases and possible genetic problems. Once these stages have been completed, the sperm is frozen for six months before it is re-tested. This is where between 80 and 90 per cent of men fail because the sperm does not survive the process, Ms Witjens claimed.
She added that the lack of anonymity could have also been a factor in the low number of possible donors as it has created a “myth that you become the father either legally or socially”. Ms Witjens insisted that accessing a donor’s information is merely about curiosity.
The law states that any sperm donor at a licensed clinic is protected from any parental responsibilities – both legal and financial – for any child that is born as a result of their donation. However, the idea that, 18 years down the line, someone they have never met before could access their information could well be off-putting for a lot of men. Former Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris certainly thinks so.
My view? I think that if a child knows he or she was conceived by sperm donation, they will certainly want to know more and potentially trace their genetic roots. They will take the view they have a “right to know”. It’s only natural. Others may be content with the parent(s) they know.
If a child turns up 18 years later, what is their natural father supposed to do? Turn them away, pay them no regard? It’s all very well to feel safe in the knowledge that they have no legal obligations at all, ever, to that child, but I suspect that is not how the child would ever see it.
Unless a sperm donor in this country is, at the very least, prepared to welcome a child in 18 years’ time then I’d think long and hard about doing what Ms Witjens has been extolling as a highly generous and benevolent act. She argued it helps bring happiness to families now. It might, but then it might bring a good deal of unhappiness in later life to those children who, through no fault of their own, may be rejected at 18 by a biological parent and his family.
My advice to any potential donors is simple: do your homework. It is vital that you are fully informed before you proceed so there are no nasty surprises for anyone at all in an artificially created family.
The HFEA is a very good source of information and should answer any questions you may have.
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