Proposals to alter the legislation safeguarding the anonymity of sperm and egg donors in the UK could potentially introduce inconsistencies and, arguably, unfairness for numerous donor-conceived individuals, caution two experts in the field.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently suggested amendments to the law, allowing for the removal of donor anonymity from the birth records of donor-conceived children.

In their publication for The University of Manchester’s policy engagement unit Policy@Manchester, Dr. Redhead and Dr. Frith contend that donor-conceived individuals already possess distinct rights to information about their sperm or egg donor, contingent on the date of their conception. The recommended legal change by the HFEA, they argue, would exacerbate these disparities.

Led by Dr. Frith, the ConnecteDNA research team is investigating the utilization of direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTCGT) by donor-conceived adults, donors, and parents of donor-conceived individuals.

The academics write: “The HFEA has concluded that the integrity of the current legislative framework has been undermined by the impact of DTCGT. It has therefore proposed that the law should be amended to make donors identifiable from the birth of any child born from their donation.”

Currently, they explain, those conceived by donors who donated before April 2005 have no access to identifying information about their donor. Those conceived after this date can apply for it only when they become adults. Further: “The HFEA has not recommended a retrospective change in the law. This means that people born from donations made before 1 April 2005 will still have no legal route to access identifying information about their donor.”

Dr Redhead and Dr Frith observe that the HFEA’s Legislative Reform Advisory Group proposed consideration of the retrospective removal of donor anonymity. “This approach was taken in Victoria, Australia, where, in 2017, a reformed law granted all donor-conceived individuals the right to access identifying information about their donor, irrespective of when they were conceived,” they write. “If the UK were to adopt a similar approach, addressing the practical implications for individuals conceived before the HFEA register’s establishment would be necessary.”

They continue: “The ConnecteDNA study has found that connections with donor siblings can be equally or more important to donor-conceived people. The desire to connect with same-donor families and siblings during a donor-conceived person’s childhood is a key driver for the use of DTCGT by parents of donor-conceived children.”

The academics point out that the HFEA’s Donor Sibling Link service (DSL) allows donor siblings to exchange contact details from the age of 18 by mutual consent. They add: “Noting the importance to our participants of connections with donor siblings, we recommend that the Government consider reducing the age of access to the DSL.”

The University of Manchester experts conclude: “We recommend that a Law Commission project is established to explore how best to manage donor information in the UK, balancing the interests of donors, parents by donor conception and donor-conceived people, whatever the date of their conception. The UK Government should consider any findings and recommendations from this when reviewing further legislation or reform.”

‘Reforming UK fertility legislation: the effects of online DNA testing,’ by Dr Caroline Redhead and Dr Lucy Frith is available to read on the Policy@Manchester website.