The British Fertility Society (BFS) has become aware of the recent High Court ruling concerning two sperm donors who are known to the recipient parents and are now able to apply to Court for the right to contact their biological children. These are unusual cases, and we are aware of the concern it has raised among professionals working in clinics, as well as past and current patients.

The ruling results from two very specific cases and provides leave for a known sperm donor (i.e. known to the recipient parents prior to treatment) to pursue an application for the right to contact with the conceived child. It does not provide any automatic right to contact with the child, and does not permit the donor to apply to have the child live with them. The final decisions in relation to these applications will be made in the best interests of the children concerned and after considering the impact on their families. Most importantly, the ruling relates to two very specific circumstances where the donors had a relationship with the children from an early age and does not set a precedent for sperm donation, known or unknown.

As far as the BFS can establish, the sperm donors concerned donated outside the licensed clinic system. It is currently unclear what impact this ruling may have on known-donors who donate within licensed clinics, but it appears very unlikely that it will have any impact where donors have had no contact with the children conceived using their gametes.  This ruling has been made on the basis of the particular relationships that the donors had with the family unit, rather than because of the known donation per se.

Known donation is not an unusual circumstance in clinics and the British Fertility Society supports the use of known donors where appropriate. Most licensed clinics would be happy to assist patients to start a family with a donation from a friend, acquaintance or family member (if appropriate) and it is our recommendation that this is done through a licensed clinic, which affords protection for donor, recipient and most importantly child, with regards to:

  • Quarantine and screening of donor gametes to prevent transmission of infectious disease;
  • Screening of donors to limit transmission of inherited disease;
  • Legal protection and advice for the donor and recipients;
  • Access to specialist infertility counselling and advice relating to treatment.

Speaking on the ruling, British Fertility Society Chairman Dr Allan Pacey said:

The details of this ruling are currently being digested by professionals involved in the delivery of licensed fertility treatment, but as far as we can establish this is an unusual case which does not have automatic consequences for families using gametes from a known donor. Our recommendation is that treatment with donor gametes should always take place within a licensed clinic where everyone concerned can be fully aware of the legal situation and medical supervision can ensure a high degree of safety.”

Please note, this ruling refers only to situations where the donor is known to the recipient parents prior to treatment.  In the UK, most cases of sperm donation are facilitated by licensed fertility clinics where the identity of the donor is not known to recipient parents. As far as we are aware, this ruling does not set any precedent for unknown donors to apply for contact with a conceived child.

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Notes for editors:

A copy of the ruling in full can be downloaded from the British and Irish Legal Information Institute.

A summary of guidelines on screening of sperm, egg and embryo donors produced by the British Fertility Society, Association of Biomedical Andrologists, Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Andrology Society and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists can be found at http://www.fertility.org.uk/news/pressrelease/09_01-ScreeningGuidelines.html.

An A-Z list of fertility clinics can be found at the website of the HFEA (www.hfea.gov.uk).