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Donor conception law

Donor conception is the use of donated embryos, eggs or sperm  by someone undergoing assisted conception. See below for more information about the legal issues surrounding donor conception and the value of expert legal help whether you are a single woman, a married or unmarried couple, lesbian couple, a co-parent, a donor, donor conceived or simply interested in this area of law.

Relevant legislation

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 – (applicable to children conceived before 6 April 2009 and specifically sections 27-29)

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 – (applicable to children conceived from 6 April 2009 and specifically sections 33-53)

The value of expert advice

Donor conception law in the UK can be complex and there are potential pitfalls and difficulties, particularly if you are conceiving with a known donor (informally at home or at a licensed clinic in the UK), you are single (but still married or in a civil partnership), you plan to co-parent or if you have complicated personal circumstances.  The right expert legal advice can help you proactively and efficiently manage the legal issues and is strongly recommended from the outset.

I have leading expertise in the UK in donor conception law and have advised many people (including single women, lesbian couples, heterosexual couples, co-parents and donors) at all stages of the process including:

  • assistance with donor or co-parenting arrangements (including legal parenthood, parental responsibility, birth certificates, fertility treatment, handling donor information rights and ongoing  relationships concerning your child)
  • advice and preparation of known donor and co-parenting agreements
  • advice and legal representation concerning donor conceived children following relationship breakdown (including acquisition of parental responsibility, contact, residence, specific issue and prohibited steps orders)

Donor conception law in the UK

Donor conception law in the UK dictates legal parenthood in respect of children conceived through assisted conception.

The first legislation governing legal parenthood in assisted conception was introduced in 1990, called the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. It was designed to assist heterosexual couples undergoing IVF with donor eggs or sperm, support marriage and discourage same sex and single parents.

For the first time, it gave legal parenthood to heterosexual couples conceiving with donor sperm or donor eggs (rather than the biological donor) and prescribed that donors would not be financially responsible for the donor conceived child. Clinics were also required to consider a child’s ‘need for a father’ before offering treatment, which in practice proved a difficult obstacle for single women and lesbian couples to overcome.

Donor conception law was overhauled in 2008 as part of a review of fertility law in the UK.  The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 introduced a range of changes, including replacing clinics’ requirement to consider a child’s ‘need for a father’ with the need for ‘supportive parenting’ clarifying that fertility treatment should be available for single and same-sex couples (although clinics had already in practice developed a liberal interpretation of the requirement to consider a child’s ‘need for a father’). The 2008 Act also extended the legal parenthood rules to cover same sex couples (although this does not operate retrospectively in respect of donor conceived children prior to 6 April 2009).

Donor conception law in the UK can be complex, depending upon your circumstances. For example:

  • Non birth mothers of donor conceived children prior to 6 April 2009 will not automatically have legal parenthood for their child (regardless of whether they have entered civil partnership)
  • For children conceived as from 6 April 2009, non birth mothers (who have not entered civil partnership with their partner) will not automatically have legal parenthood for their child conceived abroad or at home (although they can be treated as their child’s second legal parent if they conceive with their partner at a UK licensed clinic and sign the appropriate consent forms prior to treatment)
  • Civil partnered non birth mothers of children conceived as from 6 April 2009 will be treated as the child’s second legal parent (whether conception takes place at a UK clinic, abroad or at home) unless it can be shown that she did not consent

Helpful websites

HFEA– short for Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority- provides a wealth of information in its capacity as the UK’s regulator of fertility treatment.

NGDT – short for National Gamete Donation Trust- is a charity which recruits and helps egg and sperm donors.

DCN – short for Donor Conception Network- offers help and support to donor conceived families and individuals.

Fertility Network UK – a charity which provides help and assistance with fertility treatment.

Stonewall – leading charity providing help to gay and lesbian people on a diverse range of issues including fertility treatment and parenting.

Media & Commentary

Was it legal to create a grandson with a dead man’s sperm? (The Times, 13 September 2018)

3-person IVF approved by HFEA – what does this mean? (Jordan Publishing and Family Law, 31 January 2017)

Mother to freeze eggs so her infertile daughter, 2, can one day give birth to her own brother or sister (The Daily Mail, 11 January 2011)

Why can’t I have a baby on my own? (The Independent, 20 May 2010)

IVF, donor conception and surrogacy: Is progressive global regulation possible?(Louisa Ghevaert, BioNews, 4 July 2011)

Sperm donor websites: the baby delivery service (The Telegraph, 26 September 2010)

Birth certificates: a new era? (Louisa Ghevaert, BioNews, May 2010)

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