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Anonymous gamete donation: some steps in the right direction

8 April 2003
Appeared in BioNews 202
The dominant assumption in gamete donation that anonymity is both beneficial and necessary has begun to look less secure in recent years. For many donor-conceived people, parents of donor-conceived children, individual professionals involved in assisted conception, and at least some donors, the possible demise of anonymity is long overdue.

Several key developments in the UK over the last year suggest an uncertain future for the principle of anonymity. In July 2002, a judge in the English High Court, hearing a claim that donor anonymity contravened the right to 'respect for private and family life' guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights, concluded that it was: 'entirely understandable that AID children should wish to know about their origins and in particular to learn what they can about their biological father or, in the case, of egg donation, their biological mother'. In October 2002, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, reviewing progress made in the UK on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, questioned UK legislation that gave no rights to donor-conceived people 'to know the identity of their biological parents'. In January 2003, reporting on the outcome of its consultation on donor information, the Department of Health indicated its acceptance of 'a strong argument in principle for children conceived using donated sperm, eggs or embryos being able to find out the identity of their donor'. Finally, in March 2003 the House of Commons approved the Second Reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Bill, which, although not directly concerned with donor anonymity per se, is centrally focussed on issues relating to identity and biological truth.

The fact that the Department of Health has delayed a final announcement on donor anonymity pending further consultation suggests some hesitancy on the part of the government. Such a delay may well give heart to those wishing to maintain the status quo. However, for those of us supporting reform and for whom each passing day sees the birth of three or four donor-conceived children who will be denied information about their biological histories under current legislation, we must hope that the government will not only display the courage of its evident convictions but that it will do so expeditiously.

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