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UK fertility regulator calls for warnings on DNA testing websites

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Stowe Services

So, you may read the headline above and think, what does this have to do with family law?  However, DNA testing is not just about discovering long-lost relatives. For those people conceived with the help of a sperm donor, it can potentially reveal some unwelcome results.

To help us understand the impact further, Bethan Cleal from our Winchester office joins us:

As a fertility law expert, I trained in a niche fertility law firm, I was intrigued last night when I noticed on Twitter an article from The Guardian with a warning from The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA) to DNA testing websites.

The HFEA is the UK government’s independent regulator overseeing fertility treatment and research. The warning to the DNA testing websites was that they should take more responsibility to inform customers of the potential risk of discovering family secrets.

Over the last few years several DNA testing websites, such as 23andMe and, have been offering people the ability to find out where their DNA is from. The sites also allow people to compare their genetics with relatives and can find relatives who have also used the service. All by simply taking a mouth swab and sending it off to the testing centre.

The concept sounds simple enough, but please imagine these two scenarios:

Someone using the service was conceived with the help of a sperm donor but their parents have never told them.


Someone who is aware they were conceived through egg or sperm donation, but whose donor previously chose to be anonymous.

The results of a DNA test could uncover far more than they first expected, and could result in an enormous upset for the people involved.

If you were conceived at a UK fertility clinic with the assistance of an egg and/or sperm donor prior to 31 March 2006, there is a high chance that your donor would have been promised anonymity prior to their donation.

As a result, only non-identifying information is available to donor-conceived children/adults and the only possibility of finding out through official channels who your donor was, is by checking with the HFEA to see if they have chosen to be identifiable. However, there now appears to be another route available, via DNA testing websites, and while this news will be positive for some, for some families and even some donors, this will be a distressing prospect.

We live in a digital age, and with the enormous growth of social media alongside these DNA testing websites, new challenges will be created for those who have donated their gametes and those who have been conceived with the assistance of a donor. There is fantastic support available at the Donor Conception Network, and a link to their website can be found here.

If you have any questions at all about this post, or if you are considering conceiving through a fertility clinic and have any questions as to the legal issues which may impact you, then please do get in touch with me. You can email [email protected] or call on 01962 388299.

Bethan advises on all aspects of family law and is a specialist in domestic and international surrogacy arrangements. Following her training in a niche fertility law firm, she has experience of fertility cases involving legal parentage and donor conception.

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  1. Andrew says:

    And websites hosted abroad?

    British and other national authorities need to grasp that – short of a Chinese or Saudi solution where visiting the wrong foreign-hosted website gets you inot touble and can cost you your liberty – and where nobody even expects the post to be confidential – they have lost control of anything which can be done online; for good or for ill there is noting they can do about it.

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