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BMA Conference Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Doctors back sperm donors' anonymity
Doctors fear there will be fewer donors if rules change
Doctors fear there will be fewer donors if rules change
Doctors have said sperm donors should retain their right to anonymity, despite calls for children conceived that way to have the right to information about their parents.

At their annual meeting in Harrogate, members of the British Medical Association narrowly voted against a change in the law which is being considered by the government.

It is proposed that children should have access to the name, age and birthplace of the donor.

A consultation period into the plan has formally ended, but the department said it would receive comments until the end of the month.


Named sperm means no sperm

Dr David Sinclair, BMA Fife division
The decision overturns the BMA's existing policy that anonymity for sperm donors should be removed in the future.

Eighty members voted for donors right to anonymity, with 66 voting against a change.

Under current rules, children can only access very limited information once they reach 18, including whether they were born as a result of infertility treatment involving donors and if they are related to someone they plan to marry.

'Moral conflict'

Dr David Sinclair of the BMA's Fife division warned a change in the law would deter men from donating sperm, meaning many couples would remain childless.

He told the conference: "Men will not donate sperm if they know someone will arrive on their doorstep and say `Hello Dad'.

"Named sperm means no sperm."

Dr Joan Black, a retired community paediatrician from Berkshire, said although the debate was "finely balanced", she objected to the removal of anonymity on "legal, moral, ethical and practical grounds".

She said the 1989 Children's Act made it clear the welfare of the child was paramount.

Dr Black added: "Consequently if the identity of the biological father is on record it would be difficult if not impossible to refuse to divulge this information in court.

"If a child is born from donor sperm, there could be a moral conflict between the child's wish to know his biological father's identity and the donor's wish to remain anonymous."

No decline

She said the Bristol University Centre for Reproductive Medicine had seen a substantial drop in sperm donors coming forward since it became compulsory to register names with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

She warned that removing anonymity could have "very serious consequences for infertility treatment" and was concerned that any new legislation could be retroactive.

But Dr Helena McKeown, a GP from Salisbury, said she backed the right of the donor child to information because she was adopted and knew that being able to find out about your origins was vital.

Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee, said the committee's belief was that anonymity should be removed in the future but not retrospectively.

He added there was no evidence removing anonymity did not mean in the long term that donors would decline in number.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "We are seeking a wide range of views in our consultation."

No charges

Doctors at the BMA conference also voted that patents should not be directly charged for seeing a GP.

Some did suggest models from other countries, where patients paid for consultations and claimed the costs back, perhaps from a health insurance policy, often worked well.

But Dr Andrew Dearden, a GP who has worked in Australia, said he had heard people discuss whether to visit the doctors or buy a new pair of shoes.

He added that patients could not always tell if they had a minor condition or a serious one, but decided whether or not to visit the doctor based on how much they could afford.

Dr Ian Bogle, BMA chairman, said charging patients for consultations was not compatible with the principles of the NHS as he saw it.

Full coverage of the BMA conference 2002

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Day one

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See also:

26 Jun 02 | Health
22 May 02 | Health
27 Dec 00 | Health
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