Page URL: https://www.progress.org.uk/ncobbodies29

This policy document is part of a response submitted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Consultation on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research.


What degree of control should a person providing bodily material (either during life or after death) have over its future use?

There are already conditions imposed upon the donation of gametes (sperm and eggs) that prevent sperm donors from creating hundreds of offspring. Donors in the UK may stipulate how many families they wish to help to create, with an upper limit of 10. This is an important and legitimate policy (although whether 10 families is the correct upper limit is an open question), not least because the removal of donor anonymity means that any children born as a result of donation may identify and contact their donor once they are aged 18.

If a gamete or embryo is donated for fertility treatment, the donor may wish to make the donation to a friend or family member, a situation called 'known donation'. The donor has 'control' over their donation, inasmuch as they can withdraw their consent at any point up to the implantation of the embryo. But the 'control' stops there - the donor is not recognised in law as having any parental relationship to a child born as a result of their donation.

A small number of gamete donors wish to place conditions upon their donation - for example, they may not wish their gametes to be used by a single woman, or a lesbian couple, or someone over a certain age. Such conditions pose a moral problem, because they introduce an element of bad faith into a system which is largely predicated upon good faith.

Such conditions also pose a legal problem, because although they are not prohibited in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 or the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, they will be prohibited by the Equality Act 2010 once its provisions come into force in October 2010. We think that just as the Human Tissue Act 2004 prohibits the placing of conditions upon the donation of tissue or organs, so the same principle should apply to the donation of gametes or embryos.

For the reasons we explain in our answer to Question 23, if gametes, embryos or stem cells are donated for research purposes, generic consent should be obtained in order to ensure that this research is not impeded.