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German court case may put an end to a sperm donor's anonymity

11 February 2013
Appeared in BioNews 692

A regional appeals court in Hamm, Germany has ruled that a 22-year-old woman conceived via an anonymous sperm donor has a legal right to find out the identity of her biological father. It is not clear what effect the ruling will have in practice, however, as the records may have already been destroyed.

Named only as Sarah P, the court considered that the woman's right to know her biological father's identity took priority over the confidentiality awarded to the donor. 'The interest of the plaintiff in ascertaining her parentage is assessed to be higher than the interests of the defence and the right to a nondisclosure of donor information', newspaper Deutsche Welle reported the court as saying.

Sarah P found out four years ago that the man who raised her was not her biological father but she was denied access to any identifying information on the sperm donor by a lower court. However, despite her appeal being successful, Sarah P might still be unable to learn the identity of her biological father as the Essen-based reproductive specialist doctor who performed the procedure said he may no longer have the information. If he does, he must provide it, the court said.

In 1989 Germany's constitutional court ruled that access to genetic heritage was a personal right. However, rules to determine how donor details should be documented and preserved were never drawn up until 2007, when a court ruled that donation records must be kept for 30 years. Speaking to Der Spiegel, Dr Andreas Hammel, a gynaecologist from Erlangen, Germany explained the 2007 ruling was not to allow donor children to find their biological fathers, but to screen for hereditary and infectious diseases.

The case has prompted calls for legal certainty in this area. 'The government has to introduce a register in which all the data of sperm donors and the children is kept permanently. At the moment, these documents are kept by the doctors who are responsible for the treatment', Dr Hammel, told Deutsche Welle. Around 100,000 people in Germany are thought to have been conceived via anonymous donors.

In related news, Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, has approved a regulatory framework to carry out PGD. A ban on the procedure was declared unlawful by the Federal Court of Justice in 2010 and the German parliament passed legislation to permit PGD the following year (reported in BioNews 615).

Court rules sperm donors' children have right to know
Deutsche Welle |  6 February 2013
Der Name des Vaters
Stern |  6 February 2013
No anonymity for sperm donors, court rules
Deutsche Welle |  7 February 2013
Tochter darf Namen von Samenspender erfahren
Die Welt |  6 February 2013
9 February 2015 - by Dr Petra Thorn 
On 28 January this year the German Federal Court of Justice decided in a landmark court case that donor conceived people have the right to access the identity of their donor - independent of the offspring’s age...
22 April 2013 - by Dr Wybo Dondorp 
The Nuffield Council report rightly rejects the call to pressurising parents into compliance, as this abstract ideal of openness disallows them to make their own moral judgements about what is best in their situation and for their family...
18 February 2013 - by Dr Petra Thorn 
On 6 February 2013, the Higher Regional Court in Hamm, Germany, granted a 21-year-old donor conceived woman the right to access the identity of her donor. Further steps must be taken in order to provide a comprehensive legal framework....
3 December 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
A British Columbia court has ruled that donor-conceived people do not have a constitutional right to know their biological origins and has reversed an earlier decision that would have effectively removed donor anonymity in the province....
18 June 2012 - by James Brooks 
A French court has effectively reaffirmed the country's policy of gamete donor anonymity by rejecting a donor-conceived woman's demand for information on her biological father...
30 April 2012 - by Jessica Ware 
Two German gynaecologists will have to pay child support for twins after they artificially inseminated the mother without obtaining the father's permission to use his sperm, which he had asked to be destroyed two years earlier...
19 August 2011 - by Dr Petra Thorn 
Germany is said to have one of the most restrictive legislation in the area of assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments. In contrast to the UK, both oocyte donation and surrogacy are prohibited by the Embryo Protection Act. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) has only become permissible as of July this year – it can now be carried out if the child will be born with a severe genetic disease, or if the embryo is so severely impaired that the pregnancy...
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