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One woman's campaign: spousal consent for sperm donation

03 September 2012

By Dr Victoria Burchell

Appeared in BioNews 671

A woman has called for legal changes to prevent a man from donating his sperm without his wife's consent.

The un-named woman wrote to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) after finding that her husband had donated his sperm while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the birth of their son. She argued that sperm should be treated as a marital asset and should not be donated without her permission.

In her letter, she expressed her concerns that the sperm may already have been used to father children who upon reaching the age of 18 would have a legal right to trace their biological father.

If this were to happen, she wrote, 'there is then a huge emotional debt I would owe the child. I would not feel that I could push them away. It is something I would need to explain to our son'.

Fertility clinics are currently required by law to offer counselling to potential donors to discuss their donation before it takes place. There is no obligation for clinics to establish the opinion of the donor's wife, although some counsellors may suggest that men discuss the subject with their partner.

Once given, consent may still be withdrawn before the sperm is used.

In a comment in the Daily Mail, Peter Lloyd, a men's rights activist, has described the idea that a wife's consent be required for sperm donation as 'sexist and absurd'.

But Dr Gulam Bahadur, a former HFEA member and specialist in men's health at Homerton University Hospital in London said: 'At the moment the person from whose body the sperm comes has total say over its use, but if this use impacts on the wife's family life, the situation is not cut and dried'.

The Daily Mail reports the woman has contacted Diane Blood, who won a legal battle in 1997 to use her late husband's sperm to conceive. Mrs Blood told the newspaper: 'There needs to be a public discussion about the matter. When fighting my own case I quoted the marriage vows which say "All that I am is yours"'.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield and chairman of the British Fertility Society, explained the UK courts have already declined to rule that sperm can be treated as an asset.

'In all of the cases where a property claim has been brought to court, the court has ruled that you cannot class sperm as an "asset", in the same way as you might be able to classify a car, or a house, or a painting', he said.

Dr Anna Smajdor, lecturer in biomedical ethics at University of East Anglia, also speaking on the programme, said it was unlikely the law would be changed. She said there was no justification for treating sperm, under current divorce laws, as a marital asset that would require the spouse to show the court they had made some contribution to that marital asset.

'It is not enough that you have some property or some goods', she explained. 'You have to show that you have actually helped to build up those goods'.

'The wife would have to show legally that her husband couldn't have produced that sperm without her input'.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

13 November 2017 - by BioNews 
This film documents a Progress Educational Trust/University of Sheffield event which marked 20 years since widow Diane Blood won the legal right to conceive a child using the sperm of her deceased husband...
29 October 2012 - by Dr Gillian Lockwood 
The recent case in which a woman called for legal changes to prevent men from donating sperm without their wife's consent has already drawn interesting responses. However, debates about whether gametes may be regarded as 'marital assets' fail to capture the essence of the woman's sense of injustice. The whole point is 'What do we tell the children?'...
15 October 2012 - by Stevienna de Saille 
In 'Whose Sperm is it Anyway?', Dr Anna Smajdor writes that the law should not be changed to require spousal consent for the donation of sperm. While I do not disagree with this assertion, we should perhaps not be so quick to dismiss the claim for gametes as 'marital assets' solely because of the terms upon which it is based...
01 October 2012 - by Tom Barrow 
The ex-wife of an Emirati man used his sperm to conceive a child without his knowledge or consent, the Abu Dhabi Appeals Court has heard...
01 October 2012 - by Dr Anna Smajdor 
A woman whose husband became a sperm donor without her knowledge is seeking to change the law. Her claim is that a husband's sperm constitutes a 'marital asset', over which a wife should have some legally enforcable rights...

16 July 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
A Californian woman is suing the US Food and Drug Administration over its sperm donation policy...
30 April 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Thirteen vials of sperm are to be divided between two women after their relationship ended, a Canadian court has ruled. It ruled the sperm should be treated as property and divided between the former couple as other joint assets were upon separation....
20 February 2012 - by Natalie Gamble 
The family court has been making law on known donors, with a number of recent disputes between known sperm donors and lesbian mothers...
19 December 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A former US Republican politician has made international headlines after allegedly acting as a sperm donor to multiple women in New Zealand. According to the New Zealand Herald, Bill Johnson provided sperm to at least nine women although official guidelines state that no man should donate to more than four families....
22 June 2009 - by Professor John Milbank 
Should donators of sperm remain anonymous? Some people say yes, others say no. But most assume that the argument is in principle resolvable if we can apply the right principles in relation to accurate evidence....

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Published by the Progress Educational Trust

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