26th January 2005

The British Fertility Society (BFS) welcomes today’s launch of the national recruitment campaign for gamete donors in the run up to implementation of changes in the law to remove donor anonymity. The society confirms its commitment to working with the UK Government to try to ensure the campaign’s success during these changing times.

The removal of anonymity was made after a lengthy consultation process. This identified a great diversity of opinion, both among the membership of the BFS and in society at large. We recognise that there are both benefits and drawbacks to changing the status of gamete donor anonymity.

The BFS acknowledges the importance of donor-conceived people having the opportunity to find information about their biological origins. At the same time, a number of practical concerns remain for the continuation of treatment services with donor gametes (see below).

All parties agree that the change in anonymity will require a significant education and awareness programme in order to recruit enough gamete donors to meet the national need. BFS members will be pleased to work with the national recruitment campaign to ensure that potential donors have all the information and support required to make informed choices.

Dr Allan Pacey, Honorary Secretary of the BFS said, “We welcome the launch of the campaign. This is the first time that the UK government has put resources behind a national programme to recruit gamete donors. Until now fertility centres have had to commit their own resources and they have had variable success in doing so.

However, some members of the BFS have significant concerns that infertility clinics have not been given enough time or assistance to prepare for this campaign. Moreover, there are important practical details yet to be worked out about how clinics will cope with what is a big change in everyday practice. Further guidance is urgently needed.

Professor Alison Murdoch, Chair of the BFS said, “To donate sperm or eggs to help a couple have a much wanted and loved family is one of the greatest gifts an individual can give. The future of many lives rests on the success of this campaign.

The society is currently drafting guidance to its members in advance of April to assist them in recruiting donors. It also plans to monitor the impact on treatment services with donor gametes in clinics around the country.

Notes

Benefits of change in anonymity legislation

  • There may be psychological benefits for individuals who are able to identify their biological parents. Information from adoption and from other countries where gamete donors have been identifiable for some time has shown that to learn about your origins is a natural and important part of human psychological wellbeing.
  • There will be practical medical benefits for individuals who can trace their biological origins. For example, in the future there may be preventative therapies for those with a high familial risk of certain cancers and if biological links are known it may be easier to find tissue matches and donors for treating some diseases.
  • Encouraging a culture of openness. It is known that only about 10% of parents in the UK ever tell their donor conceived children about their origins and it is hoped that with this change in legislation that more parents may be encouraged to be open with their children about their origins.

Practical concerns

  • Already a number of clinics are reporting a shortage of sperm. The recruitment campaign has a significant challenge to meet the national need.
  • Patients may use unregulated methods to obtain donor sperm if they cannot obtain treatment or if they do not want to be treated with a donor who can be identified. There are genuine concerns about using the internet or contact adverts in magazines to obtain fresh (unscreened) sperm to perform home insemination.
  • Patients may choose to go abroad for treatment with donor gametes (particularly for egg donation) to get around lengthy waiting lists caused by a shortage of donors. Some clinics are reporting that some patients are now travelling to Spain where donor anonymity is still guaranteed.
  • A continued lack of information about how clinics should be preparing for this change and also what information should be given to donors from April. The BFS believes it is essential that clinics are able to inform donors about the likely route by which donor conceived people may make contact with them. It is disappointed that the UK government currently has no plans to fund mediation and origin counselling similar to those established in post adoption services.