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The rise in popularity of sperm donation from known donors

The rise in popularity of sperm donation from known donors

The change of law in 2005 with respect to the identity of sperm donors has had a dramatic effect on public attitudes towards donation. What changed in April 2005 was the freedom of donors to remain anonymous.

The change of law now means that anyone who has been born using donated sperm, eggs or embryos has, at the age of 18, the right to ask the government’s fertility watchdog (the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority: HFEA) for information about the donor.

Because of this, fertility clinics must now ask all their donors for identifying – as well as non-identifying – information.

Up until this time, most patients treated with donor sperm relied on donations given by anonymous individuals, who were often students in their late teens or twenties.

However the result was that, following conception, there was usually an air of mystery (and secrecy, unfortunately) about the donor dad.

However, current research has highlighted the importance of genetic background in the families of children conceived by donor sperm, which is why the laws were changed to ensure that donor-conceived children were able, when adults, to trace their biological father.

As predicted this has had an enormous impact on the availability of donor sperm; together with the limits set on payments to donors, this has led to a general shortage in availability.

Patients are now a lot more discerning in their choice of donor in the UK, largely because in the future and in some small way the donor father may have an involvement in their family life.

As a result, the election of sperm donors has in many cases become less to do with physical characteristics and more to do with donor attitudes, education and interests.

However, the nurture/nature debate is still controversial, and it remains difficult to know if attitude is genetic or simply a matter of upbringing. Nevertheless, it has led to a feeling among patients to be more intimately associated with their donor prior to attempting conception.

As a result, the use of a ‘known donor’ – independently picked and introduced within a joint treatment plan – is becoming more and more popular. The latest statistics from our own donor bank show just how huge this increase in known donors has been over the last few years.

Another interesting point is the change in profile of both donors and patients to be treated. In the past the majority of donors were gay men donating to single or lesbian couples. Now increasingly, heterosexual men are donating to their often single heterosexual friends. Perhaps this is a reflection of changing social trends which sees many young women prioritising careers over relationships.

Another distinct category of donor is the man who donates to family members. Most common is a father donating to a daughter-in-law or a brother offering his genetic material following the discovery that his brother is sterile.

Surrogacy is also on the increase, with partners acting as donors to women who are not only altruistically donating their eggs but also are prepared to endure the entire pregnancy. Of course, this raises a whole new set of ethical questions, but importantly it increases personal choice.

For more information, check the official websites at London Women’s Clinic and London Sperm Bank.