Your child's rights
Will my child be able to have information about their donor and/or make contact with him/her?
Your child’s right to information and / or contact with their donor depends on when, where and how they were conceived, and the law in force at that time.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was created in 1991 by the HFEAct 1990 to oversee and regulate fertility treatment in the UK and provide a Register of all authorised treatments and the donors, recipients and children born thereof. A new set of regulations came into force in 2005, and a new act was passed in 2008.
Since October 2009
Clinics must take account of 'the welfare of the child' when providing fertility treatment, but will no longer have to include in this the child’s 'need for a father'
Since April 2005
In April 2005, amendments to the HFEAct 1991 gave children born following treatment in licensed UK clinics the following rights:
- Donors must provide basic information and may also write a ‘Letter’ to any child born from their donation, although it is not mandatory for a donor to write such a document. This information is available to parents at the time of treatment or any later stage on request, and to the offspring from age 16.
- The HFEA will also provide information (number, gender and year of birth) of any other children born from the same donor to applicants who can show they were the recipients of donated gametes.
- From age 16, if ‘intending to enter an intimate relationship’, any young person can check with the HFEA (or whoever takes over this function on its demise) to find out whether they were conceived with donor gametes, and whether their intended partner was conceived from the same donor.
- At age 18, young people will be given their donor’s name and last known address on request. If they wish to try to contact the donor, they should be offered guidance and support.
There are a small number of exceptions to this, as some pre-2005 anonymous donations were allowed to be used, for instance in the case of families which already had one child, so younger siblings could have the same donor. The HFEA will be able to confirm whether this was the case for any applicant.
August 1991 – April 2005
Children conceived between August 1991 and end of March 2005 do not have a right to identifying information about their donor at 18 unless that donor has re-registered with their clinic or the HFEA that they are 'willing to be known'. This possibility came about following the change in law in 2005. Young people conceived in this era can apply at age 16 to find out if they are indeed donor conceived (if that information has been witheld from them) and to discover how many other children were conceived with gametes from their donor, their years of birth and gender. Parents can apply for this information at any time up to their child's 16th birthday. At age 18 young people can put their names on a register held by the HFEA to indicate interest in having contact with half-siblings by mutual consent. There is no right to information about the children born into the donor’s family, and they have no right to apply for information from the register.
Before August 1991
Before the HFEAct 1990 came into force, there was no national legislation or regulation except for general guidelines on testing, record keeping etc set by professional bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists. There were no centralised records. NHS services had to abide by the local rules, but private practitioners kept their own records and could destroy them whenever they wished. People born of donated sperm or eggs before this date have no right to any information about the treatment or their donor or half-siblings.
There are however two organisations that hold information about some donors and offspring from this era.
The Donor Conceived Register, an independent Dept. of Health funded organisation which provides a register, information exchange and advice. Former donors and donor offspring may register and provide information, including identifying information and DNA samples if they wish, in order to share and connect with their donors, offspring or half-siblings.
The second option is the Donor Sibling Registry, set up by Wendy Kramer and her donor conceived son Ryan in 2000 in the USA. This is an online register which includes many UK-conceived children as well as UK based families that used imported sperm from the USA or travelled to the USA for treatment. Although the data on UK donors and offspring is limited, there are active discussion boards which can be informative and inspiring, if you are interested in this area. The DSR is a charity with a fee if you want to contact anyone on the register, but viewing the Registry and the discussion boards is free.
Children conceived in the UK but not in a licensed clinic
If your child was conceived outside the licensed system, for instance in a private arrangement with a traditional surrogate by supplying sperm for home insemination, the HFEAct and the 2005 regulations will not apply. Many such arrangements are successful and happy, although there are considerable risks involved. They can provide the children with varying levels of information and / or contact, sometimes including or precluding contact with half-siblings and other members of the donor’s family such as grandparents, aunts & uncles, partners and children.
The best preparation for such an arrangement includes extensive discussions to establish intentions and preferences on both sides, as well as consideration of the fact that feelings can change dramatically with actual conception or when a baby is born or even further down the line.
It would be strongly advisable to consult a law firm to ensure that your intentions and the outcome from any agreements, are set out in writing in advance. This could strongly determine the smooth transition when the baby is born, ensuring that parental order is possible to achieve. See our section on surrogacy for further information and links.
The Courts make their decisions in favour of what they perceive as the child’s best interests, which are assumed to include contact with both parents. No prior agreement made by the parents/donor will be accepted if it is deemed to override the child’s rights.
Children conceived abroad
Treatment that takes place abroad is not covered by UK regulations and no information will be kept or registered in the UK, but treatment here with imported gametes must meet UK standards, and the donors and children will be on the register. The country in which you have your treatment may keep a register and have relevant legislation, so you need to find out about the local situation as regards your or your children’s rights to information about the donor and the surrogate.
Will my child be able to contact other children conceived with the same donor or children in the family of the donor?
Contact with half siblings from the same donor is a recent development which has been a positive experience for most of those involved. (see Offsprings' experiences of searching for and contacting their donor siblings and donor. Jadva, V., Freeman, T., Kramer, W. and Golombok, S. (2009) RBM online, March, 2010 and http://www.oxfordjournals.org/eshre/press-release/freepdf/den469.pdf)
Some agencies in the US offer an open donor option and provide a sibling tracing register for their own clients. The Donor Sibling Registery in the US is an organisation founded on the value placed on such connections.
Unfortunately the HFEA is not currently able to facilitate such connections in the UK, and information leading to the tracing of half-siblings is not released to recipients or their children until they reach the age of 18, in the case of children conceived after the 2005 changes, never in other cases. However it is possible to connect with potential half-siblings by comparing the details provided by the clinic about the donor. DNA testings has also become an option for those who are intent on finding such information, but the act of putting a child's DNA online and the consequences of doing so, should be carefully considered before any action is taken. Join DCN to discuss this issue at greater length.
Links with half-siblings have been made casually on occasions such as DC Network meetings and workshops and local support groups.