Conceiving with Donor Sperm: What Could Go Wrong?

19 July 2022

Demand for donor sperm has increased in recent years. This has been driven by growing numbers of single women and same-sex couples undergoing assisted conception. Added to this, male sub-fertility and infertility rates now stand at around 10 – 15 percent. Furthermore, there has been a shortage of sperm donors in the UK for many years. As such, increased demand together with the time, commitment and costs of undergoing licensed fertility treatment with donor sperm is leading to growing numbers of women looking for a sperm donor online.

Private Sperm Donation

Choosing to conceive with a private sperm donor in an unregulated environment outside of a UK fertility clinic creates additional issues and risks which need to be considered carefully from a medical perspective. Whilst registered sperm donors at UK fertility clinics have undergone rigorous vetting (from a personal and family health history perspective) along with medical checks for a range of genetic conditions and sexually transmitted diseases, private sperm donation does not offer the same level of protection. Privately donated sperm outside of a licensed clinic setting is not medically screened and quarantined before use. Furthermore, there are no guarantees that a private sperm donor will provide accurate personal information about their health and lifestyle or undergo any medical screening (the risks of this are likely to increase with an unknown private sperm donor sourced from the internet compared with a male friend or known acquaintance).

The motivations of private sperm donors can also create a range of additional issues and risks. Some private sperm donors, known as ‘super donors’, are motivated by a desire to conceive as many genetic children as possible. This can lead to large numbers of donor conceived genetic half-siblings and increase the risks of consanguinity (incest) later in life. In addition, sourcing a private sperm donor from the internet can result in women being at greater risk of unwanted sexual demands by a sperm donor (e.g. sex referred to as ‘natural insemination’ or ‘partial insemination’ or a designated act of arousal) instead of just providing a sperm sample for artificial insemination. Moreover, private sperm donation can lead to greater personal safety risks for women and more risks of unwanted harassment or exploitation.

Depending upon the circumstances of conception and the relationship status of the woman, a private sperm donor can in some instances obtain unwanted legal status and rights in respect of the donor conceived child as well. This can result in situations where a private sperm donor becomes the child’s legal father and seeks involvement in the child’s life against the wishes of the mother, which can create legally complex situations in practice.

As such, it is advisable to obtain specialist legal advice at the outset and to put in place a bespoke sperm donor agreement before conception. This should be specifically tailored in each case (i.e. not reliant on generic wording). It should clearly record and explain the legal status of the parties with reference to relevant law and address other specific issues. This helps to inform the parties of the relevant issues and their respective legal status and rights, as well as manage expectations. It also provides individually tailored contemporaneous evidence of what was understood and agreed which can be helpful evidence in the event of a subsequent disagreement or legal dispute. Moreover, it can help highlight and manage issues in individual cases which the parties may not have been aware of or considered.

Sperm Donation through a UK Fertility Clinic

Conceiving with donor sperm from a registered donor through a licensed UK fertility clinic will ensure that the sperm donor has no legal parenthood status or financial responsibility for the donor conceived child at birth under English law. However, the legal issues and wider aspects do not end at the point of conception or birth, making it important to consider the issues and implications associated with sperm donation in the medium and longer term in individual cases too. Careful thought should be given to additional issues to include: consent to store and use donor sperm or embryos comprising donor sperm in future fertility treatment, the management of donor information rights, the impact of direct-to-consumer DNA tests and management of family dynamics in the longer term. If you are conceiving with a known sperm donor via a licensed fertility clinic, it is also advisable to put in place a bespoke sperm donor agreement to help manage a range of wider issues in the medium and longer term following the child’s birth.

Specialist Fertility and Family Law Advice

Given the complex legal and wiser issues that can arise when conceiving with donor sperm, it is advisable to obtain specialist fertility and family law at the outset. Bespoke expert fertility and family law advice helps you effectively and efficiently project manage your family building journey. It enables you to identify, understand and proactively navigate a whole range of legal issues and risks and maximise your chances of a successful outcome. It can:

  • Help you maximise and protect your fertility.
  • Help access/navigate fertility treatment and/or donor conception at a UK licensed fertility clinic.
  • Help you understand and proactively manage the legal and wider issues of donor conception.
  • Put into place an individually tailored sperm donor agreement.

If you would like specialist fertility, donor conception and family law advice and assistance contact Louisa Ghevaert by email or by telephone +44 (0)20 7965 8399.


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