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Teenager tracks down sperm donor using internet

3 November 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 333

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'.

Anonymous sperm donor traced on internet
New Scientist |  3 November 2005
Boy tracks his sperm donor father
BBC News Online |  2 November 2005
How a donor sperm boy traced his father using the internet
The Times |  3 November 2005
Teenager finds sperm donor dad on internet
The Guardian |  3 November 2005
5 June 2017 - by Rikita Patel 
A donor-conceived Dutch woman, Emi Stikkelman, is the first to find her sperm donor using an American commercial DNA bank...
14 November 2005 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
The New Scientist recently recounted the story of an American teenager conceived through ostensibly anonymous donor insemination who had been able to identify his donor through DNA testing and an internet genetic database service (also see BioNews issue 333, at In fact, we have known...
7 October 2005 - by BioNews 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has published the results of its sperm, egg and embryo donation (SEED) review, which included a survey of UK clinics and a review of current scientific and clinical evidence in this area. An accompanying public consultation, which closed in February 2005, sought...
12 November 2004 - by BioNews 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a public consultation on sperm, egg and embryo donation. It is seeking views on issues such as limits on the number of children per donor, how donor's characteristics should be matched with patients, and how much compensation donors should be paid...
11 November 2004 - by BioNews 
Researchers looking at the feelings and experiences of adolescents conceived using donor insemination with an identifiable sperm donor say fears that removing anonymity from donors might cause problems for offspring are unfounded. In a study published on 11 November in the journal Human Reproduction, the researchers show that adolescents conceived...
21 January 2004 - by BioNews 
The UK government has announced that people who donate eggs, sperm or embryos in the UK are to lose their right to anonymity. The change to the existing law - which currently does not allow children conceived using donor sperm to discover the identity of donors, but only to find out...
19 January 2004 - by BioNews 
The UK Department of Health (DH) is expected to announce shortly that British sperm donors are to lose their right to anonymity, according to reports in the Times newspaper and other sources. The existing law in the UK does not allow children conceived using donor sperm to discover the identity...
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