We suggest you read the leaflet “What you need to know about donating sperm, eggs or embryos” produced by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the official government body regulating and licensing IVF units in this country.
1 – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was passed by parliament in 1990 and became law on 1st August 1991. Simultaneously a statutory Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) were established for the regulation of all treatments and research pertianing to human eggs, sperm and embryos. This authority licenses centres, its staff and regularly inspects the centres for compliance with the law and the HFEA Code of Practice. By law every HFEA Licensed Centre is required to report every treatment cycle and its outcome to the HFEA. This information is then analysed and published periodically on the HFEA website (www.hfea.gov.uk).
2 – HFEA register
The Authority keeps a confidential register of identifying information on all patients and their treatments, donors and recipients and children born after all licensed treatments. This register was set up on 1st August 1991 and contains above information from that date onwards. From 1st of October 2009 the HFEA requires your permission to disclose either your identifying or non-identifying information to named researchers who approach the HFEA and have their research approved by the authority. Your consent will be requested when you are registered with the HFEA.
3 – Using Donor Eggs, Sperm or Embryos
Identifying information about donors is held on the HFEA register and may be given to any child born from a donation once they are eighteen years old (if the donor is registered as identifiable).
A donor conceived person aged 16 and over is entitled to apply to the HFEA and access non identifying information that the HFEA holds about the donor. Sixteen year olds who intend to enter an intimate physical relationship can submit a joint application to establish whether they are genetically related.
From the 1st of October 2009 the HFEA permits centres to release non identifying information to recipient couples about their donors. This includes information about the screening tests performed before donation as well as personal non identifying information such as hobbies, likes and dislikes, professional qualifications and a personal message written by the donor.
We encourage couples to tell the child or children if donated gametes had been used. This we advise should be done at an appropriate time in their lives. Information, support and implication counselling is available within the clinic to help guide them through this process. External support is also available for them-see useful addresses.
If you would wish to seek information about your child’s donor or genetically related donor-conceived siblings you may find counselling, or similar support services, on the implications of receiving such information beneficial and highly advisable.
4 – Legal Parenthood
The law defines the legal mother as the woman who gives birth and her partner as the father irrespective of the source of eggs or embryos created with donated eggs unless the husband/partner can prove that he did not consent to treatment. The donor has no parental rights or responsibilities.
Both partners of a recipient couple must provide written consent to the use of donated eggs/embryos in the treatment of their partner.
Under the current law, there is no need for the recipient couple to disclose the use of donor eggs/embryos to the Registrar of Births. Therefore you will not expect to be named at any stage.
Unmarried couples concerned about parental responsibility are advised to seek independent legal advice.
5 – Welfare of Future Children
The law states that ‘a woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father), and of any other child (other children in the household or the family) who may be affected by the birth’.
This applies to every woman whether or not she is resident in or a citizen of the United Kingdom. It is the statutory duty of every centre to have a written procedure for assessing the welfare of the potential child and that of any other child who may be affected.
Factors considered in assessment include:
- the couple’s commitment to having and bringing up a child
- ability to provide a stable and supportive environment for the child/children
- couple’s medical history and that of their families
- both partner’s health (including their ages) and consequent future ability to look after or provide for a child’s needs
- ability to meet the needs of the children in the event of a multiple birth
- risk of harm e.g. that of inherited disorders, transmissible disease or abuse, multiple birth, neglect or abuse
- risk a new born may put on the existing child in the family
It is our statutory duty to identify the person/s who will have the parental responsibility and who will be responsible for the raising of the child. Where necessary, we obtain reports from the general practitioner, other medical specialists, authorities and agencies e.g. social workers, police etc for information to ensure that the child would not be at risk. When treating single women or those in a single sex relationship we ask the couple to identify a father figure to ensure that the child’s/children’s right for both paternal and maternal nurturing will be met.
7 – Donors’ rights
The egg or sperm donor has the right to change his/her mind up to the point the sperm/egg/embryos have been placed in the recipient. Embryos created using donated sperm/eggs can only be stored for a patient with the consent of the donor. On the other hand, the donor has no rights once sperm/eggs/embryos have been transferred to the recipient.
If you have any concerns at all about the implications of donating sperm/eggs/embryos you are advised to seek independent legal advice before consenting.
You may ask the centre, at any time, how many children have been born as a result of your donation, their sex and year of their birth.
8 – Limitation to the number of pregnancies with each donor
Legally in the UK, eggs or sperm from any one donor can be used to produce a maximum of TEN children or TEN families. In reality, this possibility is mostly with sperm donors and extremely unlikely for egg donors. However, donors may set a lower limit should they wish to do so.
9 – Sibling Pregnancies
In the event of a pregnancy the recipient couple have the choice of purchasing more sperm from the same donor and storing itso that they can have a genetic sibling/s for their child at a later stage. Whenever requested and for this purpose, we tried to conserve sperm after the TEN pregnancy limit has been reached.
10 – Consents
As stated above, we can only advise you with respect to the current law and the changes that we can envisage. You are advised to seek more specific and independent legal advice if you are concerned about how a retrospective change in the law might affect your legal position.
All donors and recipients are asked to sign appropriate consent forms after they have read the information booklets, have discussed the medical/ ethical issues with the doctors/nurses/counsellor, and are satisfied that their questions have been answered fully. Consents are obtained prior to donation.
Your consent advises us of your informed choice. You always reserve the right to change your mind until but not after the embryos have been transferred to the recipient. It is however important that all issues are thoroughly considered beforehand so that sudden and unexpected changes that you may later regret are avoided.
11 – Confidentiality
All information regarding your treatment is strictly confidential and subject to both the HFEAct and the Data Protection Act. We may communicate with your general practitioner, referring consultant and other carers only with your written consent.
Once the information has been disclosed to unlicensed individuals it can no longer be controlled by the HFE Act although it will still be under the Data Protection Act and General Law of Confidentiality. At your GP’s practice, information will be accessible to other GPs and staff. When changing GPs, your medical records will be transferred to your new GP practice without our involvement or written named consent from you.
From time to time your notes may be inspected by HFEA members for audit, by Commission of Health Improvements (CHI), individuals working for Patient Safety Agency (PSA) and National Care Standards Commission.
You have a right to decline consent to communicate with specific people or agencies, in which we may need to consider the reasons for your refusal to consent in our assessments.
We advise you to keep your G.P. informed. They are your primary carers, will also be committed to confidentiality. Sometimes patients request their GP to keep written information regarding egg and sperm donation separate from the practice notes so that this information is not freely available to all the staff in their surgery. You may request them but they may not be obliged to do so.
We request photographic evidence of your identity (e.g. passport) which we will photocopy and along with a photograph of yourself placed in your notes, so that as treatment proceeds we can confirm your identity.
12 – Treatment for single sex couples and single women
Treatment for single sex couples and single women is considered on an individual basis after careful consideration of the Welfare of the Future Child/Children.