Proposed Changes to Gamete Donor Anonymity Laws in the UK: What You Need to Know

5 Jul 2022 | Isabelle James
Doctor holding urine sample cup.

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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has proposed changes to the law surrounding gamete donor anonymity in the UK. If these proposals are approved, it may mean that donors will no longer be able to remain anonymous after donating sperm or eggs. This change could have a significant impact on the number of people who choose to donate their gametes, so it’s important to understand what these proposed changes entail.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the HFEA’s proposals and explore what they could mean for donors, patients and donor-conceived children.

What does the current law say about donors?

Under the current law, donors have a partial right to remain anonymous. They can donate sperm or eggs without their identity being revealed, but they must agree to have their full name, address and date of birth added to a confidential registry at the HFEA. If a child conceived using donor gametes wants to find out information about their donor, they can request some limited information when they turn 16 and information about their donor’s name, date and town of birth and address held by the HFEA when they turn 18.

This law was introduced in 2005 to help children establish contact with their donors and locate half-siblings. At the time it was thought that many donors would also welcome the chance to meet the children they helped create.

Donors have no legal or financial responsibility for any child conceived using their gametes. They can decline any contact, even if the child wishes to establish a relationship with them.

Why scrap donor anonymity laws?

The HFEA is considering whether the current donor anonymity framework is still fit for purpose in the era of cheap consumer genetic testing.

Today, members of the public can easily obtain DNA tests to find out their ancestry and genetic health risks through sites such as Ancestry.com and 23 and Me. These sites allow users to upload their DNA data, which is then compared to a database of other people’s DNA. If a donor-conceived child were to take one of these tests, they might be able to find information on their genetic relatives, including donors, long before the HFEA register opens when the child turns 16 or 18.

This has led the HFEA to question whether the current law surrounding donor anonymity can cope with the current reality, or whether it needs to be brought into line with new trends.

What are the proposed changes?

The HFEA has not yet settled on a proposal around anonymity. One option under consideration is lifting the anonymity of gamete donors entirely. For donors, this would mean their identity would be recorded on the HFEA register, and if a child conceived using their gametes or their family wanted to find out their identity, they would be able to do so from birth or conception, rather than when the child turns 16 or 18 as set out above.

Another option is a voluntary arrangement where individual donors and families could agree between themselves on what information will be shared and when. Some families already put in place preconception agreements around gamete donation and parental responsibility, usually in cases where the donor donates via a clinic to someone they know. A voluntary framework would see these agreements becoming mainstream for all types of gamete donation.

The third option is a “double-track” system, which would mean that donors would have to actively choose between remaining anonymous until the child is 16 or 18 as under the current framework, or being identifiable from the outset. Anonymity would then become part of the process for choosing a donor, as patients could choose between donors who wish to be identified and those who do not. In reality, however, there may not be much of a ‘choice’ since consumer DNA testing could still uncover the donor’s identity.

What are the implications of these changes?

If the HFEA’s proposals are approved, it could have a significant impact on the number of people who choose to donate gametes in the UK. As such, the proposals are likely to spark intense debate around questions such as:

  • At what point does the donor’s identity become available – before or after the child’s birth?
  • Who will be responsible for managing the sharing of information?
  • What is the impact on the welfare of the child? Would it be confusing for younger children to access this information?
  • What support services will be available to those affected?
  • Will fertility patients be more likely to go overseas for treatment, where anonymity is assured?

The HFEA is planning to consult on these changes and propose new legislation by the end of the year, and it remains to be seen what the final outcome will be. In the meantime, we will be keeping a close eye on developments and will provide updates as and when they happen.

If you would like to speak to a specialist family law solicitor about a fertility matter, call Isabelle James, or complete an online enquiry form.

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