An American boy has found out the identity of his anonymous sperm donor using an online genealogy DNA testing firm, New Scientist magazine reports. His story means that donor anonymity can no longer be assured, according to an accompanying editorial. Following a change to the in April 2005, people conceived in the UK using donated eggs, sperm and embryos will be able to find out the identity of their donors once they reach the age of 18. However, this new legislation does not apply retrospectively, and previous donors are, in theory, guaranteed continued anonymity.
The boy, aged 15 at the time, sent off a cheek swab to a genealogy website, which lead to the discovery of two men with Y chromosome DNA very similar to his own. Both men had the same surname, though spelt differently, and the genetic similarities meant that there was a 50 per cent chance all three had a recent male ancestor in common. The boy then submitted this name to a tracing website, along with information on the donor's date and place of birth, and his college degree - information given to his mother at the time of his conception.
The search threw up only one possible person, and the boy had made amicable contact with the man within ten days. According to Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, the case raises serious questions about whether past promises of anonymity can be honoured. He also said that it was particularly interesting, because confidential information had been obtained without any unethical practice being undertaken. 'Fifteen years ago, when the father donated his sperm, nobody in the world could have known this would be possible', he said.
A spokesman from the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) told the Times newspaper that the law prevents licensed fertility clinics from issuing identifying information about donors registered between 1 August 1991 and 31 March 2005, but there was nothing to stop individuals from using other methods to identify these people. He added that 'it is important to remember that there is no legal or financial liability for any donors to the children conceived from their donation, provided the treatment was given in an HFEA licensed centre'.