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Should egg and sperm donors remain anonymous?

20 May 2002

By Dr Jess Buxton

Progress Educational Trust

Appeared in BioNews 158
Should people conceived through egg, embryo or sperm donation be able to find out the identity of their biological parents? This issue was the subject of much discussion in the UK media last week, following news that Baroness Warnock appears to have changed her mind on the matter - eighteen years after her own inquiry led to the laws that guaranteed anonymity for donors. It was argued then that removing anonymity could lead to a shortage of donors, something which many fertility experts still fear. But Baroness Warnock feels that times have changed, and that we are 'so much more sensitive now to the idea of genetic inheritance'.

Those who agree with Baroness Warnock argue that all donor offspring need to know who their biological parents are, for both social and medical reasons. But leaving aside the question of whether this right should be extended (and legally enforced) to cover everyone living in the UK, how true is this assertion?

Certainly, many people conceived through sperm donation feel they need to know more about their donor 'fathers', but there are many others who do not feel the same way. And there are many more who, rightly or wrongly, do not even know about the circumstances of their conception. Should the law also dictate when and how parents break this news to their children?

The argument that a knowledge of our genetic inheritance is important for medical reasons is perhaps more compelling - family history can provide healthcare practitioners with vital information. However, this may become less, not more, important in the future, as doctors are able to examine directly many of the genetic alterations associated with common diseases. But in the meantime, it should be possible for donors to provide more detailed medical information without necessarily losing their right to anonymity.

The UK government is currently reviewing the information given to donor offspring when they reach the age of eighteen. The issue of donor anonymity requires careful consideration, as it affects the rights of potential donors and social parents as much as those of the people conceived in this way.

Dr Jess Buxton is Contributing Editor at BioNews and a Trustee at the charity that publishes it, the Progress Educational Trust (PET). She is co-author of The Rough Guide to Genes and Cloning (buy this book from Amazon UK) and Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Reproducing Regulation (buy this book from Amazon UK).



06 July 2009 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
An acute shortage of donor sperm is diminishing the capacity of the UK's public and private health sectors to treat infertility, resulting in growing concern and lengthening waiting lists at clinics. The shortage is widely attributed to the removal, in 2005, of entitlement to donor anonymity. The Progress Educational Trust, with support from the Royal Society of Medicine and the British Fertility Society (BFS) staged a panel discussion on Thursday 25 June 2009 entitled 'Banking Crisis - what ...

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