Using donated sperm, eggs or embryos in your treatment

What is donor conception?

Donor conception is using sperm, eggs or embryos donated by someone else in your fertility treatment.

Around 2,000 babies in the UK are born each year using donated sperm, eggs or embryos. The experience of people who have had donor-conceived children shows that this can be a very positive way to create a family.

Usually a clinic recommends donor conception because treatment would be unlikely to be successful if you were to use your own eggs or sperm.

If you are considering using donated sperm, eggs or embryos, you will need to think about some complex issues before starting treatment.

Many people find it helpful to talk to a professional counsellor.

 

Is donor conception for me?

A clinic is likely to recommend donor conception if:

  • you are not producing eggs or sperm of your own
  • your own sperm or eggs are unlikely to result in the conception of a baby
  • you have a high risk of passing on an inherited disease.

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How does donor conception work?

For information on how each type of donor conception works, see:

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Importing donated sperm, eggs or embryos from overseas

The procedure for using donated sperm, eggs or embryos from abroad is more complex than if you are using donated sperm, eggs or embryos that originates in the UK.

For more information, see:

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Donor introduction websites

It is possible to find a donor via an introduction website.  Such websites are not regulated by the HFEA and vary enormously in how they operate. Some websites will:

  • act as an introduction service and will provide information and support to donors and recipients
  • act as a forum and provide no information or support
  • match donors and recipients and send them to a licensed fertility clinic for treatment.

Once matched, the woman and donor may either go to a fertility clinic for licensed treatment or undergo a private arrangement (ie, the donor provides his sperm sample directly to the woman), either through artificial insemination or sexual intercourse also known as ‘natural insemination’.

Issues and risks

If you meet a donor through a donor introduction website and decide to undergo a private arrangement (rather than go to a HFEA licensed fertility clinic), there are a number of serious risks to consider:

Safety risks

If you meet a man who you do not know through a donor introduction website you may be putting yourself at risk. This may be especially risky if you have natural insemination. Although many donors who register with donor websites are altruistic and genuine in their intentions, the HFEA is aware of cases where women have alleged that they have been raped, molested or coerced into sex by men claiming to be donors who they have met online.

Health risks

In licensed clinics donor sperm and eggs are 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 a donor who they have met via a website do not have those same protections as there is no mandatory requirement for websites to vet their donors.

Parenthood risks

Men donating sperm through licensed fertility clinics are not the legal father of any child born through that donation.  Men donating sperm through private arrangements with women they have met online may be the legal father of any children born, with all the responsibilities and rights that carries. Whether you are married or in a civil partnership and how conception took place may have significant repercussions for who the legal parents will be.

Consent to parenthood

If you have treatment at a licensed clinic with a partner or spouse you will be asked to provide the appropriate parenthood consents. This ensures that any child born has a legally recognised father or second parent. If you conceive through a private arrangement there is no formal way of evidencing the relevant parties consent. This can make the parenthood situation more unclear.

Donor or ‘co-parenting’ agreements

Some websites offer ‘contracts’ or ‘agreements’ to agree the level of involvement the donor will have in the child’s upbringing. This can be a good way of recording the intentions of all those involved at the time of conception, however (unlike HFEA consent forms), these agreements are not legally binding. We would always suggest seeking your own independent legal advice before entering into any such arrangement.

Information risks

If you have treatment at a licensed clinic the HFEA will hold information about the donor and the children born as a result of the donation. The confidentiality of your information is protected by law.  The child will have access to identifying information about the donor when the child reaches 18 years old. Children born as a result of a private arrangement do not have access to information from the HFEA.

Family limit

If you have treatment at a licensed clinic the donor cannot be used to create more than ten families and you can access some sibling information for your child from the HFEA. If you conceive with a donor in a private arrangement your child could have a large number of genetic siblings. 

 

If you meet a man via an introduction website, the safest route for all those involved is to go to a fertility clinic for treatment.

Use our Choose a fertility clinic search to see the clinics in your area. 

Page last updated: 03 January 2014

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Risks of using an unregistered donor

If you don’t use a registered donor from an HFEA licensed clinic:

  • you could be putting your health and that of the unborn child at risk as the same checks and screening do not apply
  • the legal position is less clear and the donor could have a claim on or responsibility for the child
  • people born as a result will not have a statutory right to access information about their donor from the HFEA register.