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Sperm donor awarded damages after sperm used by gay couples

5 October 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1066

A sperm donor has been awarded compensation from a fertility clinic after his sperm was used in the treatment of same-sex couples and single women against his wishes. 

When donating his sperm at Manchester CARE Fertility clinic in 2010, Neil Gaskell made it clear on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) consent form that he wanted his sperm to be used to treat heterosexual couples only.

'It takes a man and a woman to create a child, and it's my view that if children are born with my sperm, they must have a mother and a father' Gaskell told the Sunday Mirror 'I worried about how they'd be brought up, whether they'd be bullied in the playground, or about having two mums. I didn't want that for my children. I accept that's going to be divisive, but it's how I feel.'

Gaskell and his former partner were undergoing IVF treatment at CARE Fertility, when they approached him to become a donor due to the good health of his sperm. Donors are informed their sperm will go to a maximum of ten families. Gaskell said he assumed that meant it would go to couples, not single women. He was told six years later that his sperm had provided 11 families with a total of 13 children, including same-sex families and single mothers.

'It was life-changing – impossible to process. The betrayal of my wishes really got me, and the sheer number of children,' he told the Mail on Sunday.

Gaskell decided to sue CARE Fertility, and after a four-year legal dispute, he received a settlement out of court. 

Gaskell's wishes were in line with the HFEA Code of Practice, which states donors can specify special conditions for the storage or use of their sperm, or embryos created using it. However, his conditions were at odds with the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against protected groups, including same-sex couples.

The HFEA Code of Practice recognises that conditions set by donors may be incompatible with the Equality Act, but it is left to individual clinics to judge whether this will result in less favourable treatment for their patients and therefore whether to recruit the donor.

CARE Fertility said errors like this are 'exceptionally rare' but importantly it has brought to light the tensions caused by permitting conditionality on donated sperm and eggs.

A spokesperson from the HFEA told the Sunday Mirror: 'Lessons have been learned and the clinic now ensures that all treatments are conducted in line with our Code of Practice and the Equality Act 2010, to ensure that no one receiving treatment is discriminated against because of a protected characteristic, including sexual orientation.'

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