New act brings changes to legal parenthood

Same sex couples undergoing fertility treatment will have the right to name both partners on their child's birth certificate from Monday 6 April.

The new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 will apply to both same sex and heterosexual couples who conceive using donor sperm or embryos. For unmarried heterosexual couples the male partner can state clearly that he intends to be the legal parent of any child who might be born.

This new legislation brings the UK's fertility law into line with equalities legislation by giving same sex couples the same rights to parenthood as heterosexual couples when registering their child's birth.

Welcoming the new legislation, Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the HFEA, said:

“The desire for a family and for an own child is a very powerful force, affecting people regardless of their sexual orientation or circumstance. Fertility treatment has helped many couples become parents. Until now, however, adoption has been the only route by which some partners have been recognised as legal parents.

“We are now levelling the playing field. From now on, all parents regardless of their sexuality and status will now be named on their child’s birth certificate.

“Society is changing and families are changing. People who previously had no hope of becoming parents now have that hope because new fertility treatments/technologies are developing all the time. This new legislation matches the framework for new scientific capabilities with people’s expectations about parenthood.”


Notes to editors:

  • The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 received Royal Assent in November 2008. The bulk of the legislation will be introduced in October 2009. The HFE Act 2008 will also introduce changes to parental orders in April 2010 affecting same sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples who enter into surrogacy arrangements. ...more about the new Act
  • The parenthood provisions apply to patients undergoing fertility treatment using donor sperm or donor embryos at UK licensed clinics. The new law also clarifies the consents required when heterosexual couples are treated using donor sperm or donor embryos, and consent to parenthood when a person's eggs, sperm or embryos are used after their death. ...more on the changes to parenthood laws
  • The HFEA recommends that people seeking to use donated sperm in their treatment do so only through the UK's licensed clinics because of the risks around legality, paternity and screening. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient. If the couple is married or in a civil partnership and sperm insemination does not take place at a licensed clinic, fatherhood or parenthood will automatically be conferred on the partner but could be contested. Where couples are not married or not in a civil partnership, the new law will only apply when treatment is carried out at a clinic licensed by the HFEA. 
  • People using licensed clinics can be sure that any donor sperm or eggs used in their treatment has been subject to rigorous quality checks, including screening to ensure that the material has not been infected with diseases such as Chlamydia or HIV.
  • Patients using unlicensed services do so at their own risk. Donors are also protected by donating via HFEA licensed clinics - the law states that men donating sperm at fertility clinics are not the legal father of any child born through that donation.
  • The HFEA is the independent regulator for IVF treatment and embryo research. Our role is to protect patients and the public interest, to drive improvement in the treatment and research sectors and to provide information to the public and policymakers about treatment and research.

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Page last updated: 08 April 2009

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