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Sperm donation and the law: for patients

Thinking of starting a family with the help of a sperm donor can be a daunting experience. Before you embark on your journey, you'll need to make many decisions and think through all the implications.

There are a number of donor conception routes available.

  • use a donor who you know or a donor who you don’t know,
  • have fertility treatment at a fertility clinic or undergo a private arrangement, or
  • go overseas for donor treatment.

Each route has different legal implications which you should think carefully about.

Finding a donor

You can choose to use a donor who you do not know by going to a fertility clinic. You will not know the identity of the donor, but you will be able to access anonymous information about them (such as height and eye colour) from your clinic.

Your child will be able to access anonymous information about their donor  when they’re 16 years old and they will be able to find out their identity when they're 18 years old.

Alternatively, you can use a donor who you already know or who you have met via an introduction website. You and the donor may either go to a fertility clinic or undergo a private arrangement (ie, the donor provides his sperm sample directly to you).

If you join an introduction website, keep in mind that these sites can vary enormously in how much support they provide. Some provide very useful information, whilst others act merely as a forum to meet donors.

Going to a fertility clinic

Clinics in the UK are regulated by us.

At regulated clinics, the donor is screened for infectious diseases, such as chlamydia and HIV, and is offered counselling and information about their rights and obligations.

The donor’s sperm can only be used to create up to 10 families and  they will be compensated up to £35 for each clinic visit in line with the requirements set by the HFEA.

If you have fertility treatment using a donor at a UK clinic the donor will not:

  • be the legal parent of the child born
  • have any legal obligation to the child
  • be named on the birth certificate
  • have any rights over how the child will be brought up, or
  • be required to support the child financially.

You will have parental responsibility and, if you are married or in a civil partnership, your spouse will automatically be the child’s second legal parent. If you are in a relationship, your partner will be the second legal parent if you both sign the relevant legal parenthood consent form.

Undergoing a private arrangement

If you decide to undergo a private arrangement, you will always be the child’s mother.

However, the law on who will be the child’s other parent is not straightforward. It is possible that the donor will be the legal father of the child with all the parental and financial responsibility this involves.

Parental responsibility can depend on:

  • whether you are single, married or in a civil partnership at the time of conception
  • whether the insemination took place through artificial insemination or sexual intercourse
  • who is named on the birth certificate, and
  • whether the donor will have established a relationship with the child.

Whilst this option can be good for some people – often popular because you can have on-going contact with the donor during the child’s life – this donor conception route is unregulated so it can be very risky. Also, if the donor were to decide to discontinue contact with you and your child, your child will have no means of finding out about the donor or making contact with them in later years.

Risks of a private arrangement

If you undergo a private arrangement, you will not have the same safety and legal protections: you can’t be sure that the donor has undergone rigorous screening and quality checks. If the donor has not had these checks, you may be putting you and potentially your child at risk of many diseases, including hepatitis B and C.

There is also no limit on the number of families the donor can create or on how much compensation he can receive. If you have donor treatment at a UK clinic, the donor can only donate to up to 10 families. This limit is to maintain a relatively small number of children and donor-conceived genetic siblings from one donor. The limit also minimises the possibility of two children from the same sperm donor having a relationship with each other without knowing. Some unregulated donors have reported conceiving several hundred children and it is therefore important to think about the possible implications of this for your child.

There are also safety issues to think about. If you decide to meet a man who you do not know, you should be careful not to put yourself at risk. Some donors may be genuine in their intentions, but some may not be, and rather than offering artificial insemination they may insist on ‘natural’ insemination. They may try to convince you that ‘natural’ insemination offers a better chance of getting pregnant over IUI, but this is not necessarily the case.

The donor’s role in your child’s life

If you know the donor, you may decide to co-parent or have the donor play a role in the child’s life.

Have you thought about what role you want the donor to play in the child’s life?

Would you prefer the donor to have no contact with your child? Or would you like the donor to play a limited or more active role in your child’s life?

These questions can sometimes lead to disputes with donors. Some people decide to sign a ‘donor’ or ‘co-parenting’ agreement which sets down in writing at the time of conception an agreement between all parties on the role the donor will play (if any) in your child’s life.

These agreements are not legally binding and you should seek independent legal advice before drawing one up. They do not guarantee the donor’s role in the child’s life or his legal and financial responsibilities.

Donor agreements may:

  • be a good way to set out everyone’s intentions at the time of conception
  • help avoid future disputes or misunderstandings
  • be reviewed and changed over time, and
  • be useful if a dispute were to arise.

Going overseas

Some people choose to travel abroad for donor treatment. This may be because the cost of treatment is lower or that there is a greater availability of donors.

If you are going overseas for treatment because you have heard that waiting lists are long in the UK, you may want to check with a different clinic. Although some clinics report having long waiting lists, some may have shorter waiting times.

If you plan to go abroad for treatment, it is important to remember that different safety and legal rules may apply.

Before going ahead with treatment abroad, you should carry out thorough research on:

  • standards and safety issues abroad
  • legal issues surrounding donors and parental responsibility
  • the process involved in recruiting and screening donors
  • whether there are any limits on the number of families that can be created per donor, and
  • what information you can access about the donor and what information the child will be able to access. We don’t collect information about fertility treatments that have taken place in overseas clinics. As a result, children born from donor treatment abroad will not be able to access information from us about their donor.

It is important to remember that if you go to a UK-licensed fertility clinic, the donor has no legal responsibility, or rights, towards the child. This is not necessarily the case when treatment takes place in other countries.

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Review date: 13 November 2021

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