If you’re a donor-conceived child or considering egg donation as a donor or recipient, you might wonder how the law factors in when it comes to anonymity. Is egg donation anonymous or not? Should it be a concern? When should you tell your child they’re donor-conceived?
As Donor Conception Awareness Day approaches, we review anonymity laws and some of the most common concerns for recipients, donors, and donor-conceived children.
What is the UK law around anonymity and egg, sperm and embryo donation?
The UK’s current law around egg, sperm and embryo donor anonymity came into effect in April of 2005. It outlines that while donating eggs, sperm and embryos is anonymous at the time of donation, a donor-conceived child can discover their donor’s identity when they turn 18. This makes 2023 the first year donor-conceived children can apply to find out their donor’s identity.
Before 2005, egg, sperm and embryo donation was anonymous in the UK. However, men and women who donated before then have the option to remove their anonymity, so that donor-conceived adults have the option of identifying them.
Why was the law changed to remove anonymity?
On the day the law came into effect, the then health minister commented, “We think it is right that donor-conceived people should be able to have information, should they want it, about their genetic origins and that is why we have changed the law on donor anonymity”.
Can I choose to donate anonymously, or be the recipient of an anonymous donation?
In the UK, it is no longer possible to donate eggs (or sperm) anonymously. Donors are anonymous at the time of donation, meaning recipients can only find out non-identifying information like age, heritage and hair colour.
Anonymous donation is legal in some countries abroad, but is not for everyone. We weigh up the pros and cons for egg donation abroad in this article.
My child is donor-conceived. Should I tell them?
It is recommended that parents of donor-conceived children are open with their child about their origins. The HFEA and Donor Conception Network recommend talking with a child in early childhood (ideally aged five and under).
“Finding out suddenly in later life can be emotionally damaging to donor-conceived people and their families. This, coupled with a donor-conceived person’s legal right to find out about their genetic origins, means that it’s advisable to be open with your children from an early age.” – HFEA
It is also important to consider that the rising popularity and use of at-home DNA testing kits gives an increasing chance that donor identities may be revealed, often without any support being offered.
There are plenty of resources available to help navigate conversations around a child’s conception. For example, the Donor Conception Network has a list of suggested children’s books, and runs regular workshops on talking to children about their origins. We also advise discussing the process with an experienced fertility counsellor to guide you through these implications.
I’m considering donating my eggs. Should I be worried about a donor-conceived adult contacting me in the future?
Your views around anonymity are yours alone, and should be weighed up carefully before donating. When a donor-conceived child turns 16, they have a right to find out certain non-identifying information about their donor, such as your ethnicity, marital status, medical history, and the year and country of your birth. The donor-conceived child can also request to find out whether they have any donor-conceived siblings.
When they are 18, they have the right to find out who you are. It’s not a casual matter – they have to apply to the HFEA for the information. This can be really helpful in gaining a sense of identity, even if they never reach out.
How you respond if they were to get in touch is your decision, and you have no obligation to return the contact in any way. Still, it’s really important that you fully understand the implications of this decision. This will be covered in your implications counselling session. You might also like to chat through your thoughts with previous donors or women considering egg donation. You can do so confidentially in our private Facebook donor information hub, Miracle Makers.
Speaking anecdotally, we find that most of our donors are open to the donor-conceived adult making contact once they turned 18, but do not have any expectations. If you are uncomfortable about the prospect of any potential future contact, donating eggs is probably not the right decision for you.
“I would be quite happy if they reached out at 18. I’m not holding my breath for it, because obviously it’s their life, if they don’t want to reach out for any reason, I completely respect that. But I feel like the journey me and her [the donor-conceived child] parents embarked on alongside each other, it’d be quite nice to finally meet and see the fruit of everything that we did. And if they keep in contact, great, and if not, then so be it.” – Altrui egg donor, Rachel
“I would be more than happy if they did, I would be understanding if they didn’t. If they want to come and find out a bit more about their genetics, that’s fine by me. I got the most beautiful card from my recipients. I have a bigger desire to hug her [the recipient]. I’m just so pleased that those children they go on to have are going to have the most wonderful lives, and I wish them all the very best.” – Altrui egg donor, Olivia
“I am a retired physician who donated six times in the 1970s. In 2017, I received an email from one of my donor-conceived children, who had spent decades trying to find me. This was not a surprise to me, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life. […]
I would advise donors that there is nothing to lose and much to gain by letting yourself be known. If the law is properly written, it should protect donors from being on the hook for support and contact, but leave open the opportunity to know a relative who may be someone you come to know and value as part of your family. Nobody, either child or donor, should have expectations beyond the simple knowledge of who their ancestors are.” – Name withheld, in a letter to the Guardian (2022)
I’m considering receiving eggs. What if my donor-conceived child feels that the donor is their parent instead of me?
Worrying about a donor feeling attached to the donor-conceived child – or vice versa – is a common recipient concern. Interestingly, some women and men choose not to donate eggs and sperm out of a similar worry: that the donor-conceived child will feel attached to them.
We find that many of our donors feel very sure about their role in the egg donation process: they are providing a way for another family to have a very wanted child, and nothing more. Egg donors often have children of their own and do not confuse any children born out of donation as their own. Many egg donors feel more affinity towards the recipients, who they know often have very difficult journeys on the way to egg donation.
On the other hand, donor-conceived children that grow up within loving families feel very sure of who their mums and/or dads are, and find the details of their conception a minor detail.
“I know that when my mom and dad would try to talk to me about it, I was like ‘I don’t care, I want to play with Lego’, so you kind of have to overcome that they’re kids, and they just don’t care. […] I think sometimes my parents maybe overdid it because they were so anxious to make sure I would be well adjusted and okay, and there would never be any kind of “you’re not my real dad!”, because I think that’s a big, big worry. Whenever prospective parents talk to me, they’re like ‘but did you ever scream across the dinner table?” and I’m like, ‘No, you know, I was a teenager, I screamed lots of things, but it was always like, you know, all my friends have mobile phones!” – Donor-conceived adult, Kate
This is a topic that our collaborator Becky Kearns (Defining Mum, Paths to Parenthub) regularly addresses on her social media. There are also plenty of resources online where you can hear from donor-conceived adults themselves. We asked donor-conceived adult, Kate, how she felt about her origins in one of our webinars, which you can watch here.
We encourage getting involved in the discussion to make sure you understand your fears and feelings before proceeding.
“It makes me so cross when people say to me ‘oh, but that’s your child’, and I say, ‘no, my children are in my home. I’ve helped a family have a child. Without the baby’s mum, that child would not be here.” – Altrui egg donor, Olivia
- Biological Mother vs The Donor (Motherhood Reimagined)
- Three Makes Baby: How to Parent Your Donor- Conceived Child, by Jana Rupnow (book and podcast)
- 10 Things Donor-Conceived Children Want Parents to Know (Parents)
I’m a donor-conceived adult. How do I request information about my donor?
Finding information about your donor in the UK will depend on when you were conceived, and how old you are now. This is because the information and consent collected on donors has changed throughout the decades.
The HFEA was set up in 1991, so if you were born before then, they would unfortunately not have information about your donor. The Donor Conceived Register might be able to help, but it’s worth noting that back then, many parents of donor-conceived children were advised by professionals to not divulge the details of their conception.
If you were conceived between August of 1991 and March of 2006, you can request certain information about your donor. This includes the year and country of their birth, a physical description and whether they had children or not at the time of donation. However, not every donor will have provided this information. People who donated during this time do have the option to remove their anonymity, so you may be able to request their identity from the HFEA.
Parents of donor-conceived children can also access some non-identifying information about the donor and whether they have siblings.
If your donor donated after April of 2005, you can contact the HFEA and apply for a range of information. If you’re 16, you can apply for non-identifying information and whether you have any donor-conceived siblings. If you’re over 18, you can apply to find out your donor’s identity.
Information of all parties is handled very sensitively, and there will be a process to go through to apply for the information. Once your application has been processed, they will contact the donor to let them know.
- Finding out about your donor and genetic siblings (HFEA)
- Apply for information (HFEA)
- Finding out about your child’s donor or donor-conceived siblings (HFEA)
- Rules around releasing donor information (HFEA)
The increase of donor conception within fertility treatment has helped thousands of people in the UK to create the families they dreamed of. The laws around anonymity in the UK are in place to protect donor-conceived children, allowing them to access genetic information and gain a sense of identity, if they choose.
There are different arguments for and against donor anonymity, and it is important that you explore these before proceeding with egg (or sperm) donation in the UK, whether you are planning to be a recipient or a donor. Counselling is available to help you navigate thoughts and concerns, and understand the implications of the law for everyone involved.