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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 15:10 GMT
Should sperm donors remain anonymous?
Baby feet
Children who are conceived with donated sperm, eggs or embryos will be allowed the right to trace their natural parents, the government has confirmed.

The change will take effect from April next year, and will not apply to cases before that date.

Ministers say that the right of youngsters to have information about their parents is paramount, particularly because of the genetic factors in some diseases.

But some fertility experts are worried the changes will make recruitment of donors harder if they cannot remain anonymous.

What do you think? Should sperm or egg donors remain anonymous? Have you had experiences of this?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

We are parents of donor offspring and we purposely chose a known donor because it was and is the best and most decent thing we could do for our children. They deserve the right to know exactly where they came from...genetically and socially.
Irene and Matthew Sen, Australia

Everyone else is born with the right to know their father why cant these children? You are denying them a part of their life otherwise, and surely that is against our rights. To be honest I can't see why sperm donors seem so worried out there children just knowing a small bit about them, they wouldn't have to meet up, and get to know each other.

Funny how a child conceived the traditional way after a drunken one-night stand will never know who their father is (chances are the mother won't know either) yet nobody discourages such behaviour on the grounds of the rights of the child.
Jonny, England

If I look at my family medical history I discover cancer, adult diabetes, heart problems, and many other less serious problems. I would rather get on with my life than worry about which of these problems I have inherited.
Caroline, England

Donors should remain anonymous. I can see the headlines now....'Child want share of millionaire donor's estate'. It will happen.
Glenn, London, UK

A few years ago a friend's marriage broke up - before she met her husband, she had a child adopted and her husband was aware of this. Somehow this child found her and them began to phone her at odd hours and follow her. This put too much stress on her relationship and unfortunately the marriage suffered. To make matters worse the child was not interested in being friends with her mother, she only wanted to make her suffer for abandoning her. Could this happen with children from sperm donors?
Anon, England

Keep the anonymity. Surely the most important thing is the love and care that the parents have given their child. I think the genetic aspect is vastly exaggerated. In any case, where will it end, should the recipients of blood or organ donations have the right to know where their blood/kidney/whatever came from?
Carole, Bristol, UK

Emotionally it is very important to know that you can seek out your birth parents
Joe, Whitehaven, UK
As an adopted person I can see the benefit of this. Due to a change in the law I was able to trace my birth parents and I am now aware that there is a history of cancer and thyroid problems. You can't get this information simply by taking a DNA sample at the time a sperm sample is taken. You need a family's health history and you need to know if your parents and future siblings went on to develop disease. Also emotionally it is very important to know that you can seek out your birth parents even if you choose not to take up the option.
Joe, Whitehaven, UK

I have never been a sperm donor. If I had been, I too would want to know what offspring I had propagated.
Julian Peck, Cheshire, England

Most of the men concerned about their identity being revealed are more concerned about being saddled with financial responsibility than anything else. While on the other hand, the children who are the product of sperm donation merely want to know where/who they came from. It is not unreasonable for a child to want this information and the rest of us have it automatically. Make a law that protects a donor from financial responsibility and then let the child have the information. That seems to satisfy the needs of both parties.
Jessima, UK

Lots of people here seem to think that DNA from sperm is all that makes you who you are. What about the DNA from the egg? What about the shared blood and nutrients from the placenta? What about the pain and love and care after birth? The sperm's DNA is a tiny part of the process of life.
Dave Black, Edinburgh, Scotland

I will not donate any more sperm now, I don't mind giving someone a chance of having a baby but I resent that child knowing anything about me. Genetic diseases, why can't they screen the sperm. Why do they have to know my identity? I won't tell them what genetic diseases I might have so what will be gained through knowing my name. A lot of my male friends feel the same way. I would expect a massive drop in sperm donation.
Stephen, Hook, UK

They can change the law if they want. But they should not dare feign surprise when they find a distinct lack of donors. Which is more important to them? The child's existence or the donor's disclosure? Quite simply if they want these kids they will need to keep the anonymity or there won't BE any kids!
Adam, London, UK

I find it difficult to understand where people have come up with this strange "Right" to know who your biological parents are. Sure, they would like to know, but I don't see any "Right" to know. Can anyone give a good reason apart from medical history? (that can be gleaned without the need to reveal identity)
Tom Cooper, Cornwall, UK

I think it is about time people stopped being selfish and put the unborn child first. I would be very upset if I knew I was the product of a sperm donor and could never find my real father it would have a profound detrimental effect on my life. I think both biological parents must take responsibility for the rest of their lives for the production of another life - a baby is not just a possession it has feelings.
Bridgette, Bristol

I can see how the child might want to know about their father, but you also have to consider the donor. It is unfair to them if you cannot guarantee that they won't be contacted by a stranger at some random time in the future seeking answers and explanations. The donor's life may be impacted in negative ways they could never have foreseen. When you donate blood you don't expect the recipient to knock on your door 18 years later asking questions. Anonyminty is not ideal, but then neither is IVF.
Jon, London, UK

No one should be a donor unless they are willing to let the child know its history
MJ, Goffstown, NH USA
No one should be a donor unless they are willing to let the child know its history. Only those of us that are adopted and have searched for years, know what it's like being told we are a nobody when trying to connect to the parents that raised us. We are not their blood. Sperm donor babies have half their history missing. So, get a life, if you are going to father a child, be prepared to admit why and who you and your family are.
MJ, Goffstown, NH USA

If knowledge of inherited diseases is required, why is the DNA profile of the sperm donor not taken at the time to be made available later to the resultant child, and the anonymity of the donor preserved. The situation of the donor may have changed very considerably in the interval as the child grew up and revealing details after that time might cause complete havoc in other relationships entered into by that time A proportion of the population already are not fully aware of their genetic parentage.
Beth, Fife

Why does it have to be a rather blunt notion of either/or? The best solution would be to simply ask donors whether or not they want their identity to be available to the child: this would not deter those who wish to remain anonymous and at the same time enable a percentage of those children who are interested to determine who their genetic father is.
Alex, UK

I am 15, and my genetic father was a sperm donor, I agree that past donors should have keep privacy, as they were promised at the time, even though I would love to just see what my father looks like. However I think that donors in the future should not stay anonymous. If I did find out who my father was, I would not want to become involved with his life, as it would be very disruptive and unfair.
Emma, UK

We have been lucky and have two boys of which we are very proud; others are not so lucky and helping infertile couples is important. However will allowing 'children' of sperm donators to know who the donator of the sperm is opens up huge difficulties to the families of those who have donated. Are they entitled to part of that donor's estate? Would the children be willing to have the public image of that person: either good or bad reflect on their true parents? As has been said, your true parents are those who have loved and raised you. I do not understand this call for openness, anonymity seems the most sensible approach.
Stephen, Surbiton, UK

Despite being infertile myself, the whole business of sperm/egg/embryo donation makes me feel queasy. My husband and I feel strongly that if a couple are not able to have a baby using their own genetic material, they ought to adopt a child already in need of parents. Bringing in a third party in this way seems to make a mockery of two people committing to one another for better for worse.
Jane, Wales, UK

Many of the arguments here reflect the ones previously used to justify anonymity in adoption - changes in the law now recognise that children have a right to their genetic heritage and at age 18, a right to know where their biological parents are. As an adopted person (who has traced my biological parents) my parents are the people who raised me but that can never obliterate that fact that there are other dimensions to my life.
Martine Tommis, Bolton

I think that some people here need to ask them selves some questions... Why does the law need to change? Is it because the government have just decided to change it, or is it because there are teenagers/adults trying to find their biological fathers and the information they need is being kept from them? You'll probably find that it is the latter, and they should have every right to the information to do so.
Vince, Croydon

It's a very simple decision. I'd consider donating sperm to an infertile couple if anonymity was guaranteed but if it isn't then I'll make life easy for myself and not bother donating. Too bad for the infertile I guess.
Karl Peters, UK

I think that stopping donors remain anonymous will stop lots of people from donating sperm and eggs

I was conceived through self insemination. I'm 14 and have thought a lot about my donor. Although I would maybe like to see a picture of him and find out what he was interested in, I decided that was purely through curiosity as I enjoy sciences and am generally very inquisitive. I have a very good relationship with my mum and I am sure this has a lot to do with the fact that I only have one parent. Although I don't have a father, I have several adult friends who I am very close to. I think that stopping donors remain anonymous will stop lots of people from donating sperm and eggs as they do not want their biological children turning up on their door step 20 years later.

Just because you donated sperm does not make you a father. A father is someone who raised and loved the baby that they created in love with their partner. If this means that the husband is infertile and the couple must use another man's sperm then the child is still conceived in love. Allowing the naming of these kind people who allow those who cannot medically have children will see a drop in numbers that will be hard to recover from.
Jo, UK

I think they should. I am married but I would be quite happy for my husband to donate sperm if he could remain anonymous. However if he were to have 4 or 5 etc siblings turning up on our doorstep in years to come I would be against it. They would not be part of our family conceived in a loving relationship. My husband would be doing it to be helpful not for future commitment.

One must draw out the subtle distinctions between, step-fathers, father-figures and the actual provider of you genes. A person can have only one father, surely we are entitled to know who he is should we choose to cement our link with our true parents. Donors will be aware of this legislation and that should make their decisions informed.
Darab Khan, London, UK

Several contributors have pointed out the emotional hardships caused by a donor child not knowing their origins. But what of the emotional hardships caused by tracking down their genetic father, only to find he doesn't want to know them? A badly thought-out piece of legislation.
Rob, Letterkenny, Ireland

Donors don't donate because they want children, but because they want to help others have children
Kat, UK
Donors don't donate because they want children, but because they want to help others have children. To force them to reveal their identities so that one day 'their' children can track them down is somewhat draconian. If the concern is purely medical, surely this information can be taken without compromising the donor's anonymity? I do have sympathy for children who wish to trace their biological parents, but I would question whether this is the right way to approach the matter.
Kat, UK

I had to have donor sperm as my husband was infertile - after several attempts I became pregnant only to lose the baby - its an outrageous decision and I bet any one of them on that panel had have no experience with infertility - the most distressing thing a couple can go through and now its going to be even harder - disgraceful.
W Girling, UK

Once born, the helpless infant is completely dependent on her caregivers for both her physical and mental development. It is ungrateful, unappreciative, and shameful, to seek her 'natural' parents since it necessarily detracts from the affection and care that should be due to her 'adopted' parents. The genetic connection is purely accidental and meaningless to her life. Her true parents are those who made all those sacrifices - physical, financial and emotional - to help her through the pains of her physical and mental growth, in sickness and in health.
KS, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Donors should have a choice here. If they want to remain anonymous then let them. They should give a medical history (if they don't already) just for the future health of any children. If on the other hand they are happy enough to be fully identified then so be it.

I think for medical reason the children do have a right to know
Jan, Seattle, USA
I do not think this is a grey area that some people on this board refer to. I think for medical reason the children do have a right to know. Not only that the sperm donors give their sperm to more than just one woman. I would hate to think what would happen when these children are grown if they should accidentally marry one another.
Jan, Seattle, USA

What about children conceived outside the marriage, do we force the mother to admit this to her husband and child? How about the child produced by rape, how will they feel when they discover the truth? This is a grey area, but in my view if the donor wants to remain anonymous then let them. The prospective parents will know this when the sperm is used and be prepared to cope with the situation should it arise.
Caron, England

My husband, father, sister-in-law and aunts are all adopted. They don't feel the need to find their birth parents as they are very happy with their adopted parents. Whist I agree that children conceived from donated sperm should be able to find out about any hereditary diseases, I cannot understand why they will have an identity crisis if they are unable to contact the sperm donator.
Anon, England

The question should be: do we need sperm donors? Aren't there enough people in the world? Perhaps we should try making sure the people who are already here are given a good standard of living before we start worrying about bringing more people into the world.
James, Exeter, Devon

You will cut the chances for people who cannot have children because the donors will get scared
Georgeta, Bucuresti, Romania
Absolutely! The adoptive parents are already stressed at the idea that in a fine day their child will start looking for his "real parents". But imagine if a stranger is coming to you and says "Hi, dad!"... You will cut the chances for people who cannot have children because the donors will get scared.
Georgeta, Bucuresti - Romania

My British fiancé does not know who his natural father is at a time in his health life when his medical history is of vital importance. This is only one issue of many. Donating sperm or eggs is not like giving blood; a human life could be the result. Those who do it for the money and then want to vanish are particularly shallow.
Ann Taylor, Derby, UK (American tourist)

The critical word here is 'donor'. Eggs and sperm are 'donated' with a view to helping others in exactly the same way most of us make charitable donations of cash to charities. Many couples have to use these facilities to have children that could not otherwise be born. These offspring would do well to remember that they would never have existed were it not for these donors and should get on with living their gift of life to the fullest and give more appreciation to the couple who went through all the agony to have them.
Kiltie, Staffs, UK

Being an adopted person who has a natural yearning to know who I am - who my natural parents are - I can only say I am delighted with the new law. I take the child's point of view. Every human being has the RIGHT, especially in our enlightened 'non-Victorian' years, to know who their birth parents are. I always felt it was a selfish or misguided act to donate sperm and eggs anonymously. Please people out there consider the child for once. By the way, what do these parents tell their children when they start asking questions?
Sade, UK

If medical history is of main concern, then why is this not taken but the donor left to remain anonymous? The parents will have to take responsibility for the fact that the child will never know their real father and that is a burden they take on when they decide to use a sperm donor. Otherwise there will be far fewer donors and this won't be an issue!
Claire Herbert, London

The idea that I could be traced and have a stranger turn up at my door would stop me right away
Stephen, Scotland
I donated sperm as a student and had this rule existed I wouldn't have. The idea that I could be traced and have a stranger turn up at my door would stop me right away. Whether enshrined in law or not some of us would feel a responsibility for the child if we knew. The impact on my family could be devastating both emotionally and financially.
Stephen, Scotland

Put yourself in the now adult child's place. Everyone has a right to know from where they came. Who you are is both nature and nurture. Why cause so many people an identity crisis? Here in the USA, we have six million adoptees who have no idea about their own history. Keeping this "Secret" will only hurt.
Stacie Byrd, South Carolina, USA

Sperm donors are only in the "donation game" for the cash - so I can't see why they should expect lots of special rights. They should be happy with their £15 and keep quiet.
James, UK

Yes of course they should remain anonymous. These people are not parents, just genetic contributors. If women and couples want to have sperm donation, then anonymity will have to continue because no one will want to have this responsibility imposed on them. Donors should however be encouraged to give any history of genetics and diseases, even if they develop later.
Daniella How, UK

There is a world of difference between children knowing the medical history and even in-depth details about their donor parent, and knowing enough to track them down and meet them. The first is a human right and may help prevent genetic diseases. The second is a violation of the human rights of the donor.
Sarah Bowyer, Reading, UK

As an adopted child, I'm firmly of the opinion that genetics have nothing to do with parenthood. My parents are the people that brought me up, gave me their love, and supported me into adulthood. For whatever reason, my birth parents gave me up. I have no real interest in knowing who they were, or why they did it. I don't believe that a child's' right to know should be any stronger than a birth parents (or donors) right to remaining anonymous. There probably needs to be some balance between the rights of the child (in terms of medical histories etc), but this shouldn't extend to going against the wishes of the donors.
J, Wellington, New Zealand

Why not know that a child has grown into an adult ?
Nick James, Northampton, UK
Why remain anonymous? What have you to fear? Why not know that a child has grown into an adult and maybe even be proud of the fact? You never know - he or she may be the next prime minister!
Nick James, Northampton, UK

Although donors are not liable (at this time) for maintenance payments, this could change in the future. All it would take is one hard up single parent and lawyer. Go figure.
Barry Quick, N. Devon

Well done! Now watch the number of donors halve, making it even harder for couples to start families.
Steve Smith, Nottingham, UK

The scenario of having a wife and two kids then opening the door to the child you never knew you had compounded by possible financial responsibilities would be unfair. However, our fear of this cannot outweigh the rights of a child to know their own biological parents.
Luke, Scotland

I feel that there is a great danger that donors will be reluctant to come forward
David Gilbert, Edgware, UK
Whilst I can appreciate the point raised by ministers to obtain details of genetic background to assist with the treatment of some hereditary diseases, I feel that there is a great danger that donors will be reluctant to come forward due to the possibility of being targeted for maintenance payments in the future.
David Gilbert, Edgware, UK

The basic instinct of the human being is trying to solve the mystery of life. It's not that we are all fascinated just by the fact how life started millions of years ago, but for many it's a simple matter of who they are and where they really came from. The new legislation is heading the right direction but is flawed to an extent. Sperm donors should be given the choice to exercise anonymity while donating. This will enable people to choose if they want an anonymous donor or one with a profile.
Vijay Bysani, Newcastle

I agree that children born from sperm or egg donation should have as much right to know about their biological heritage as any other, but I fear that if too much knowledge could be revealed then donors would be put off. It is very different from adoption where the parent chooses to have the child adopted out - in the donor's case, they wouldn't even know whether or not a child had been created.
Natalie, London

Can you imagine the emotional baggage that would be caused to both the child and the donor?
Nikki, London
I have been considering becoming an egg donor to help infertile couples. But this new ruling has made me decide against it. I'm perfectly happy for any child conceived from my eggs to have full access to my medical history and that of my family, but the thought that in 18 years time, when I will probably be raising my own children, a person could want to meet me, as their "mother". Can you imagine the emotional baggage that would be caused to both the child and the donor?
Nikki, London

The child from sperm donation should have the right to find out who the donor is for several reasons, the greatest being medical history as so many diseases are inherited. Without such a history, it seems likely that they will end up not just medically worse off (as doctors will have no clue as to where to start looking) but also financially worse off as, for example, insurance companies inevitably demand such details and I would expect penalise those who can't provide such data. At the same time, it needs to be codified that the donors, whilst being identifiable, should also not be in any way responsible for any potential claims for maintenance or other claims on their finances or estates.
Nicholas Adams, Cambridge

Donors should have the choice whether to be identified or not. It seems as usual the only people this will have an effect on are the people the donations are supposed to help (the parents who can't have kids on their own). I have donated in the past but will not in the future.
John, Aberdeen

I was born to donor sperm 26 years ago. My birth certificate father left shortly afterwards and I was raised almost exclusively by my mother. Although I have no desire to find or become part of my biological father's life, I have a great curiosity about 50% of my genetic inheritance. I would like to know about my father, and whether I'm at all like him, or if nurture has overtaken nature in making me the person that I am. I'm sure there's an intermediate answer to the anonymity question.
Michelle, London

Is this the thin end of the wedge that will end up with donors having responsibilities pushed, both financially and emotionally, upon them? Maybe not now, but in the future I think it will happen.
Stephen, Scotland

This is flawed legislation
Mark H, UK
A student, hard up from having to pay top up fees etc, decides that rather than waste his sperm, he will sell it for a small fee. A couple, desperate for a child use that sperm and have a child. They love that child as if it was 100% biologically theirs. Meanwhile, the student gets on with his life. Years later, he is with his wife and two kids, successful and happy when there is a knock on the door. "Hello I'm your son/daughter". It would be devastating for everyone concerned. This is flawed legislation.
Mark H, UK

I would be quite happy to give anonymously, especially as the British populace isn't producing enough children. However, I am a little suspicious that someone might try and challenge the law saying that I wouldn't be responsible for the children and take me to court to get child maintenance from me.
Graeme Phillips, Berlin, Germany (normally UK)

I have two lovely boys of my own. I would gladly donate my sperm if it means that someone else can experience the same joy. Of course any conceived offspring should know the identity of half DNA. Just don't call me the father. Fathers get up at 2am, and I'm just about over that!
Daren, London

Given the fact that many, if not all, character traits are from one's genes not from the influence of a father substitute, however caring. I believe it is everybody's right to know who their natural/actual father is. There is always the possibility of hereditary illnesses to take into account as well.
Jim, Scotland

There is only one answer. Yes - all children have a right to know where they came from
Susan, Lancashire
There is only one answer. Yes - all children have a right to know where they came from, and anyone who thinks otherwise should take a long hard look at themselves. I have seen enough poor souls on various TV programmes, absolutely desperate to know their parentage to realise that someone like me who has always known their "real" mum and dad.
People who have had a child using these methods must accept that it is only pure selfishness on their part to think that they can hold back the truth - stop thinking about yourselves, and accept that provided they have proper love and respect for you, finding out who their real father is merely helps these people to complete the jigsaw of who they are.
Susan, Lancashire

If you give a child up for adoption, you are given the right to anonymity. The parents may have their own reasons why they don't wish to be known to the child, and this is respected.
But for some mind-boggling reason, the rights for anonymity for a donor have been removed. If they are indeed concerned about the genetic factors of some diseases, then simply have the donor fill out a form detailing any in reception, thus negating the need for having a psychological bombshell drop on the donor 15 years down the line when a stranger knocks at his door calling him 'dad'.
Michael Ambrose, Cambridge

How ironic that marriage was probably established and sex outside it made taboo so that men could be sure of passing on their property, wealth and power to their own genetic progeny and not that of another man, but now many people seem to think it doesn't matter if some children don't know their genetic origins. Well, I agree with the government that it does matter because to pretend that a child is biologically yours when it is not is basically living a lie, and vice versa.
Steve, UK

This is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. What about the rights of the donor? It makes me very angry when I hear people say "they have the Right to know who their parents are". They don't.
Steve, London

So what is next if the anonymity is taken away? Will the sperm donors then be told that they have to pay child support? Will they then be held responsible for the children? If anonymity is removed I think we should expect a huge drop in donors because not every donor wants to be known or one day have a person knock on the door and say "hi dad". Sometimes for some children the truth may hurt.
Lee, UK

I think people are getting confused the word donor and the word father, just because a sperm donor helped the conception of a child does not automatically make him a father or a parent. Being from a situation myself where I don't know who my biological father actually is, I feel that I do have the right to try and explain that it isn't such a big issue for me, a father is the person who is their for you and helps to bring you up not the person who aided your conception. If they do decide to remove the right to anonymity then we will be sure to see a lot less sperm donation, the PC tree hugging brigade really should sit down and think about what they are trying to achieve, they are so out of touch with reality.
Lorraine, UK

A man who made £20 as a student is not your father
Simon, Aylesbury UK
As an "adoptee" who has never searched, or wanted to, for my biological parents, I can think of nothing worse than a father, or mother, being traced when they have not even conceived or carried the child. Your parents are the people who bring you up. A man who made £20 as a student is not your father.
Simon, Aylesbury UK

The potential financial and emotional ties this measure will bring to donors will be a huge deterrent, especially for students and those who donate for financial gain. It would be more appropriate to have the donor opt whether they want to remain anonymous or not - and then let the mother choose what type of donor she'd like!
Mary, London, England

Why should children face the task of tracing their parents to find out if their diseases are hereditary? This is something that the NHS could do and keep the anonymity of the genetic fathers.
TB , Spain

If anonymity is removed I expect this will set a precedent that ALL children should be able to know their actual parents. When the national DNA database becomes available it will probably be a right for anyone to go and check who their real biological parents were. Some people could be in for a surprise.
Chris Q, Bradford, England

My two children were both conceived by sperm donation as part of fertility treatment as my husband and I were unable to conceive any other way. My husband is the father of our children - he gets up in the night for them, he goes out to work to support them, he is there to pick them up when they cry ... In short, he is their father. Grateful as we are to the donor who gave us the chance to have these children he is not and never can be a father to our children.
Anon, UK

The PC brigade obviously fail to see the irony. Most of these children will never get to find who their father is anyway (if anonymity is taken away) - because they won't have been born in the first place!
Jerome, Toronto, formerly London

I think fathers should have no right to anonymity - children should have a right to know their parents, full stop.
Vikrham Singh, London

Sperm donors 'to lose anonymity'
18 Jan 04  |  Health
Sperm imported to meet shortage
09 Apr 03  |  Scotland

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