What are the legal issues surrounding donor sperm?

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News hit the press last week of the national sperm bank’s first birthday. Amongst reports was the revelation that the bank had only recruited nine donors within the last twelve months.

Although this does not sound like many, the chief executive was quick to point out the drawn out process involved in donating sperm – including the plethora of tests, regular clinic visits and the necessary periods of sexual abstinence. In addition, sperm donors are paid just £35 a visit – a sum which may not make the effort involved particularly appealing to the everyday man. With that in mind, nine donors seems somewhat of an achievement.

BBC Radio London 94.9 asked Nicola Scott to provide clarity about the legal issues surrounding donor sperm and whether the changes to the law in 2005, which lifted donor anonymity, may have a part to play in the nationwide shortage:

There is now no such thing as an anonymous UK clinic donor. From age 18, donor-conceived children (who were conceived after the law changed in 2005 through a licensed UK clinic) are able to apply for their donor’s identifying information. Whilst it is easy to come to the conclusion that this may have had a negative impact on the number of donors coming forward, the statistics show that this has steadily increased over the last ten years. It is important for potential sperm donors and also recipients to understand that, whilst anonymity is not an option for UK donors anymore, this does not mean that they will have rights or responsibilities in respect of their donor-conceived offspring.

In fact, quite the opposite. Donors are protected at law from having any financial responsibility for the child (and similarly the child is not entitled to inherit from the donor’s Estate on his death) and likewise, parents are protected from sharing rights (such as decision making authority) with the donor in respect of their child.

The law as it stands is particularly child-centred, with the focus being on the rights of the child to discover information about their genetic background, as and when he or she chooses in adulthood. It is easy for those outside the world of donor conception to consider the donor a ‘parent’ with whom the child may wish to forge a relationship, but in reality UK clinic donors could not be further from it. The only uncertain factor surrounding the possible unity of the donor and the donor conceived is in how this may affect the dynamics of the families on either side.

One thing that is certain for people considering donating sperm (or eggs) and those hoping to have treatment with such gametes is that the law is designed to protect them, whilst also providing the resulting children with crucial rights to the discovery of their heritage.

The national sperm bank continue their endeavours to recruit more ‘ordinary men to do extraordinary things’ and we wish them very well.

For information about any of the above, please contact Nicola on 01305 756323 or nicola.scott@porterdodson.co.uk.

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