Our response to the Guardian article - 'UK fertility watchdog could recommend scrapping donor anonymity law' (theguardian.com)
Regarding the recent Guardian article around donor anonymity, which the HFEA are currently revisiting, we did speak to the journalist and also put her in touch with some DC people to give their comments.
To clarify the current situation, no-one donating in the UK since 2005 is anonymous: Since 2005 all UK egg, sperm and embryo donors consent to identifying information being shared with any children conceived, once they turn 18. Those children also have the right to information about and contact with any half siblings in other families, sharing the same donor. All this assumes children have been told about their origins and any contact through the HFEA is only by mutual consent.
The law wasn’t retrospective, so the first children who are able to access this information are only due to turn 18 at the end of 2023, next year. It will be interesting to see how many DC children come forward to request details and hear what connections are made and how they evolve.
The proposed changes in this article concern the idea of lowering the age at which details can be shared, so that parents could legally get information about the donor and any half siblings before the child turns 18, possibly from birth. This would allow parents to connect with other parents who have used the same donor much earlier, meaning half siblings could grow up knowing each other from childhood. The donor could be included more meaningfully in the child’s life, with a name and other facts shared and families could potentially have contact with the donor. We know some donors, parents and children would really like the option to meet earlier.
When the law was put in place in 2005 the focus was on preserving the boundaries of the intended family, whilst recognising the rights of donor conceived children. Information would be shared with children once they became adults and could decide for themselves what they wanted to do, and the law ensured the recording of donors and outcomes of donor treatment and provided a managed path to making connections post 18.
However, modern DNA testing kits are bypassing much of this, enabling people to connect with genetic family through their databases. Their popularity and accessibility mean that people (including children under 18) can get that information and make connections with genetic relatives linked via their donor. This is already happening and so the change in the law would partly be to clarify the legal position in these situations as well as avoiding situations where the donor or half siblings are unexpectedly contacted earlier than originally agreed.
Revisiting this aspect of the current law is important but also raises questions. How can we ensure the agreement is transparent and clear for all parties? For this to work, everyone needs to be open from the start. What happens when donors, parents and children all have different expectations and wishes? What impact will this have on the donor’s family, who are also genetically related to the DC child? How and under what circumstances will information about donors, donor offspring or half siblings be shared? What support would parents need and receive when navigating the decision of whether or when to make these connections on behalf of their children?
We are very glad to be included in the HFEA’s Legislative Reform Advisory Group to discuss these issues. It’s certainly something DCN is thinking about a lot and we will share more over the coming months.