Health ministers are looking at ways of giving children born as a result of donated gametes the legal right to track down their biological parents. The government has confirmed that it will publish a consultation paper in the autumn on what information should be given to children born of sperm and egg donation.
With in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment using donated gametes now accounting for about 2000 births each year, the issue has become a priority for ministers. Ministers are unhappy with the status quo, but have effectively discounted the possibility of imposing a retrospective change in the law - which would breach the trust of those who donated sperm of egg on the assumption that they would never be contacted by any resulting children. In recent years there has been mounting pressure for a change in the law to end the current system of anonymity for gamete donors. However, fertility specialists are warning that ending anonymity would result in a crisis in recruiting gamete donors, exacerbating existing problems.
The average waiting time for donated eggs at fertility clinics in the UK is between four ad eight years and sperm donors are generally in short supply. Health officials expect a drop in donation levels should the law be changed but they insist that experience elsewhere suggests that fewer people come forward for treatment as well - at least initially.
Supporters of greater rights for children born of donation to trace their genetic parents also point out that the profile of donors changes when anonymity is scrapped, with a shift towards older donors who give for more altruistic reasons.