Fertility Concerns

Conception via Sperm Donor

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People might choose to use a sperm donor for several different reasons. Male infertility, lesbian couples, and single women are among the primary recipients of sperm donor, along with couples where the male is the carrier of a genetic disorder which can be passed onto any children he has. People often consider sperm donation when they have tried other options, such as fertility treatment, or when there is no male partner. Using a sperm donor is a big decision and it can take people years to decide whether it is right for them. Talking to a counseller can help you decide if it is right for you, and help you work through any questions you have. Talking to other people who have been through, or who are going through sperm donation is also important, as they will be able to share with you their personal experiences, give you support and understanding, and answer some of your questions. The Donor Conception Network is a network dedicated to supporting families who are considering, or have been through donor conception.

How it works

There are two main types of sperm donation, those arranged through sperm donor clinics, or self-insemination by known donors. All licensed clinics in the UK are regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The safest option is to go to a clinic, as the semen is screened, and your legal position is protected. Self-insemination at home by a donor you have arranged yourself is risky as you won't be able to ensure your sperm donor doesn't carry diseases, such as STDs, which could harm you and your baby. Your legal rights also aren't protected should you choose to use this method. Some people are referred by their GP to a sperm donor clinic, in which case it may be funded by the NHS, but this is relatively rare and most people have to pay for donor insemination.

All potential sperm donors are screened for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis b and c, and the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis. Sperm donors are also physically examined to check they do not have any STD's such as chlamydia, and are given urine tests. Once the sperm has been donated, it is tested to assess the sperm count and motility.

All sperm donor clinics try to match you with a sperm donor who has physical similarities to the non-genetic parent. These physical similarities can include build, race, and other physical characteristics. Most UK clinics will be able to tell you a certain amount about the sperm donor, but donors vary in how much information they want to give. Some parents want to know lots if information about a potential sperm donor, while others prefer not to know any personal information. It is common in UK clinics for men who donate sperm to write a goodwill message to any child conceived using their sperm. However, there is no law that requires them to give personal information, other than identifying information which can be released to the child when they are 18. You don't have to accept the sperm donor you are offered, but you may need to wait for longer if you reject it if there is a shortage of donor sperm.

Donated sperm is used to create a pregnancy by fertilising the egg either inside the woman's body (this process is called artificial insemination, or intrauterine insemination), or outside the body, which is called in vitro fertilisation (IVF). To create a pregnancy through artificial insemination, preliminary tests first need to be carried out on the women who will be carrying the baby. These include blood tests, hormone tests, and a full tubal patency test. People seeking sperm conception are also offered counselling in the majority of HFEA clinics before treatment goes ahead. Treatment takes place when you ovulate, and a thin tube places the sperm at the entrance to your cervix, or in your uterus. IVF is a more complicated process, and is used when artificial insemination isn't a viable option, for example, if a woman's fallopian tubes are blocked.

Implications for you and your child

There are many questions people have when considering whether to try donor conception. Is it right for us? Will I be able to bond with a child not genetically related to me? Do we tell friends and family or keep it quiet? Do I need to tell my child they are donor conceived? And if so, when and how do I tell them? Considering these questions and how you feel about them will help you (and your partner, if you have one), decide whether sperm donor conception is right for you. Talking to a counsellor and other people in the same position can help you decide. Sperm donor conception isn't right for everybody, and some people decide adoption or fostering suits them better. It's important to be informed about the issues you might face before making your decision about what is right for you. If you have a partner, make sure you communicate honestly with each other to find out how you each feel. The stress of infertility can cause friction in relationships, so be understanding and patient with each other.

Telling your child

Conceiving a child through sperm donation will have wide reaching implications for your family. The idea of telling your child that they were conceived through sperm donation may seem daunting, but being open with your child about how they were conceived is considered the best course of action. Telling children before they reach 5 years of age how they were conceived is recommended, as then they can integrate and process this knowledge as they grow up, and when they are old enough to fully understand it, it won't come as a shock to them. Telling children about how they were conceived normalises it, whereas keeping it quiet can make the fact of their conception seem like a secret. This is more likely to make them feel embarrassed about it, or different to other children. Many parents find that explaining to their child that all families are different, and that sometimes people need help to become mummies and daddies, helps their children understand. There are several storybooks available that explain to young children the concept of donor conception in a child-friendly way.

Your child may or may not want to contact their donor when they are older. At 18, donor conceived children can access identifying information about their donor, but there is no guarantee that the donor will want to meet them.

The current law on donor sperm

In 2005 a law was passed in the UK which means children born from sperm donors can assess the HFEA's information database when they are 18 to find information identifying the donor, which includes their name and last known address. These regulations apply to men who registered as sperm donors, or re-registered from 2005, so the effects of this law will come into force from 2023, when children conceived in 2005 turn 18. This information doesn't mean your child will necessarily be able to contact the donor however, as the donor may have moved, and contact details may be outdated. If a donor conceived child hasn't been given any non-identifying information about the donor from their parents, they are legally entitled to ask for it when they turn 16. Others countries, such as the US, still allow anonymous sperm donors for insemination, where donors are promised that their identity will never be released to recipients, and in many other countries all sperm donors are kept anonymous.

Would the sperm donor have access rights to a child conceived with his sperm?

No, the law states that sperm donors arranged through HFEA clinics have no legal or financial responsibility to any child conceived using their sperm. Sperm donors cannot seek access for a child conceived using their sperm, nor are they responsible for them financially. The law is more complicated in cases of sperm donation which is carried out through non-clinic routes, such as self-insemination at home. In these cases, the sperm donor is likely to be seen by the courts as the parent, especially in the case of single mothers. Drawing up a contract which states your intention to conceive a child using your sperm donor, which you, your partner if you have one, and your sperm donor all sign, will help your case if you need to go court over rights later on. It won't mean your donor won't be granted parental access, but it will help prove intent.

Who would be on the birth certificate?

If you and your partner were treated at a HFEA clinic, both your partner's name and your name would be on the birth certificate as the parents.

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