The first cohort of donor-conceived children to be able to access details of their donor upon turning 18 will reach this milestone later this year. This marks the change in the law in 2005 that removed the right of anonymity from donors, so that on reaching adulthood children who apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will be given access their donor’s full name, date of birth, and last known address.
The HFEA urged anyone who donated sperm or eggs after 1 April 2005 to update their contact details "to avoid disappointing their offspring". The Authority said it anticipated "hundreds of donor offspring requests" when the first people become eligible for donor information in October. However it had "concerns that many of these last known addresses will be historic".
An HFEA spokesperson told Medscape News UK: "Unfortunately, we do not know how many addresses will be out of date. When donors donated their eggs or sperm they were given information that included the importance of updating their details if they move house."
He added that donors were also told the HFEA would attempt to contact them once an application for their identifiable information is made, and having an up-to-date address would facilitate this.
Pre-2005 Donors Can Voluntarily Remove Their Anonymity
The authority also released new data today, to coincide with International Donor Conception Awareness Day, showing that 1800 babies were born to anonymous donors after the law banning anonymous donation came into force in April 2005. In the year the law changed, 1 April to 31 December 2005, 72% of the 105 donor-conceived babies born were from anonymous donations because clinics were able to use any anonymous donations already collected, patients were entitled to use stored embryos previously created, and parents could use existing donor eggs, sperm, or embryos if they wanted a full genetic sibling for a child they already had.
Thereafter, the number of babies conceived after anonymous donation steadily decreased to just 1% (24 of 2430 births) by 2012. The HFEA spokesperson told Medscape News UK: "People conceived from a donation provided prior to 1 April 2005 can only access identifying information about their donor from age 18 if their donor has voluntarily re-registered to become identifiable. As of the end of 2022, 260 donors have voluntarily removed their anonymity (113 egg and 147 sperm donors)."
The Authority estimated that around 30 young people will become eligible for donor information after turning 18 later this year. Rachel Cutting, director of information & compliance at the HFEA, said: "The decision to abolish donor anonymity in 2005 has given donor conceived individuals – providing they have been told they are donor conceived - an opportunity to learn about where they came from, and we know from studies that this has a positive impact on them. By the end of 2024, around 766 donor-conceived people will be able to request identifying information about their donor from the HFEA and by 2030, this rises to 11427."
A recent HFEA report said that the number of children born from sperm donation had more than tripled since 2006, with donor-conceived children now accounting for 1 in 170 births. Originally parents using donor conception were advised not to tell the child about their origins. However the authority now urges disclosure from a young age.
Donors May Need Reminding
Asked to comment by Medscape News UK, Nina Barnsley, director of the Donor Conception Network (DCN) said: "For the law change back in 2005 to be meaningful and work as intended, donors’ contact information needs to be up to date and they need to be fully aware, and possibly reminded, that children created as a result of their donation may potentially be interested in contact after their 18th birthday."
The DCN said they were very pleased that the HFEA was raising awareness of the issue, "hopefully reaching donors who may have forgotten about the fact they have donated".
She added: "It is the responsibility of the clinics and the HFEA to do their best to ensure this, although it also requires donors to engage. We know that donors’ circumstances are likely to be very different from when they first donated and this may affect whether they have kept in touch with the clinic and also affect how they feel now about being contacted by offspring.
"Our families will include some of those first cohort who conceived back in 2005, and we are supporting them in how to approach this. We hope that donors will feel similarly supported and ready."