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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Call to end sperm donor anonymity
Some fear donors may be deterred by a law change
Some fear donors may be deterred by a law change
Children conceived with donor sperm may be able to trace their biological fathers, if a change in the law proposed by leading fertility expert Baroness Warnock comes about.

There are some fears that the prospect of meeting children in future years could deter men from becoming donors, but the peer told BBC News Online she did not believe that to be the case.

At the moment, when children reach the age of eighteen, they can find out information such as the height, hair colour and race of their father.

What information they have access to is currently being reviewed by the Department of Health.

It's absolutely deplorable for a child not to know what other children know

Baroness Warnock
Baroness Warnock's position is a reversal of that taken in the 1984 inquiry she chaired which led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 which enshrined anonymity for donors.

She is now saying it is important that children conceived in this way have access to information about their biological father, including genetic details which could be crucial to their health.

She said that in 1984, the common belief was that parents did not tell their children if they were conceived using donor sperm.

"They were brought up under a cloud of deceit. Sometimes they were enlightened about their origin in a rather brutal way."

"But if there's an obligation to allow the children to find out about their genetic father, then there's no question of deceit."

Baroness Warnock now believes that children conceived through the use of donated sperm have a right to know the same information as those conceived naturally.

"It's absolutely deplorable for a child not to know what other children know."


One survey has suggested donations would more than halve if anonymity was removed, but Baroness Warnock said experience in Scandinavian countries had proved that men were not deterred from donating sperm.

"There might be a slight dip in the beginning, but it hasn't been any different in Scandinavian countries."

However, she said any legislation should not be retrospective.

Baroness Warnock will set out her views at a conference in London on Thursday organised by Progar, a coalition of fertility and social work organisations.

Baroness Warnock believes men would not be deterred from donating sperm
Baroness Warnock believes men would not be deterred from donating sperm
She said: "I am speaking out now because I wanted to make sure that nobody used our 1984 report which is almost 20 years old as an argument."

The Department of Health is currently in the middle of consulting over what information should be given to people born as a result of sperm, egg or embryo donation

The Department of Health' s six-month consultation period is set to end in June.

When it began, health minister Yvette Cooper said: "We need to consider whether those children should have access to information about the donor, as well as assessing the views of donors themselves about how much personal information should be provided."

Responsibility fears

Fertility expert Dr Mohammed Taranissi, director of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London said he backed Baroness Warnock's view.

Fertility expert Mohammed Taranissi backs Baroness Warnock
Fertility expert Mohammed Taranissi backs Baroness Warnock
He said it was becoming more and more important for people to have access to genetic information about themselves.

Dr Taranissi said some men could be deterred from donating: "It is always a possibility because people are worried about whether they will have more responsibilities in the future.

"But the findings from Scandinavia showed removing anonymity didn't seem to have made a huge difference."

Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show that since 1991, nearly 18,000 babies have been born as a result of treatment using donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

Jane Denton, spokeswoman for the HFEA expressed concern about the proposed law change: "The greatest concern, and this was so when the Act was passed, is that donors don't come forward.

"And there is a shortage of both egg and sperm donors at the moment."

The BBC's Mathew Hill
"The emotional consequences of meeting offspring is something that cannot be predicted"
See also:

27 Dec 00 | Health
Sperm donor anonymity review
11 Sep 00 | Health
Bid to identify sperm donors
18 Nov 98 | Health
Call to trace sperm donor parents
26 Jul 99 | Medical notes
Donating eggs and sperm
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