The UK government has announced that people who donate eggs, sperm or embryos in the UK are to lose their right to anonymity. The change to the existing law - which currently does not allow children conceived using donor sperm to discover the identity of donors, but only to find out small amounts of non-identifying information when they reach the age of 18 - will come into effect from 1 April 2005. This means that the first time people will be able to receive identifying information about donors is in 2023.
Public health minister, Melanie Johnson MP, announced the change at the annual conference of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), following a review undertaken by the Department of Health (DH). In 2002, the DH held a public consultation to ask what information should be provided to children born after donor assisted conception. The DH was expected to announce at last year's HFEA conference whether gamete and embryo donors would lose their right to anonymity. Instead, the then public health minister, Hazel Blears MP, announced that the decision would be deferred for a further six months. Now, a year later, the decision has finally been made.
Following last year's meeting, the DH wrote to clinics to ask for their views and the views of their donors. Responses were received from 140 donors and 42 clinics. 'Most but not all' clinics said they were opposed to the removal of anonymity. One clinic said that it would have a positive impact and would be better for the welfare of children conceived. Others were concerned that fewer donors would come forward at a time when there are already not enough of them. In addition, it was pointed out that removing anonymity would have no effect on secrecy: many parents never tell their children that a donor was involved in their conception. Views from donors were mixed, mainly concerned with raising the profile of donation, encouraging more people to donate and making the whole donating process easier.
Ms Johnson said that there was a 'strong case' for providing donor offspring with more information about their origins, adding that she had found that it was not fair that adopted people can be given information while donor-conceived children cannot. She added that all other participants can decide what they do, but the children cannot choose whether or not to be born. 'The culture in which donation takes place is important', she continued, so the government will concentrate on raising public awareness of donation to ensure that people 'assume it's the right thing to do'.
Responding to the announcement, Dr Allan Pacey, of the British Fertility Society (BFS), said that the BFS was 'deeply concerned that in 12 months there will be a crisis in the availability of sperm, eggs and embryos', adding 'there is a danger that if we cannot recruit donors we may find that many infertile couples will be unable to receive treatment'. 'We are concerned that if this happens, some couples may seek treatment overseas', he said. Suzi Leather, chair of the HFEA, welcomed the removal of donor anonymity, saying 'it is the decision which donor-conceived people as well as the HFEA and many other organisations wanted'.