Your legal responsibilities as a sperm, egg or embryo donor

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Donating through a licensed UK fertility clinic

If you donate through an HFEA-licensed clinic, which must conform to strict medical, legal and ethical standards:

  • you will not be the legal parent of any child born as a result of your donation 
  • you will have no legal obligation to any child born from your donation 
  • you will not be named on the birth certificate 
  • you will not have any rights over how the child will be brought up 
  • you will not be asked to support the child financially.

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Legal parenthood after embryo donation

On occasion, embryos which have been created for use in the treatment of a woman or couple being treated together are not actually used by the woman undergoing treatment.

If the woman or couple decide not to use an embryo in their own treatment, they may decide to donate their embryo for use in the treatment of others.

In these circumstances, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 sets out who will be considered the legal parents of any child born as a result of the donation.

The child's mother

The woman who gives birth is always considered to be the child’s legal mother. This is the case, even if the treatment involved the use of donated eggs or embryos.

The law only recognises one person as the legal mother of a child.

The child's father/second parent

Where the woman who gives birth is married, her husband will be presumed to be the legal father of the child, unless it can be shown that he did not consent to the embryo being placed in his wife.

Where the donor treatment took place before April 2009, and the woman being treated is not married, but was being “treated together” with a man, that man will be the legal father of the child.

From April 2009, the law changed in relation to women who are not married and same sex couples.

Where the woman giving birth is not married, the legal father or second parent of the child will be the person who is named on the ‘consent to parenthood’ forms. Both the named person, and the woman giving birth, must consent to that man being recognised as the legal father or that woman being the second parent of the child.

Where the woman giving birth is in a civil partnership with another woman, the legal second parent will be her civil partner, unless it can be shown that the female partner did not consent to the embryo being placed in the woman giving birth.

A female second parent is not the legal mother of the child; the law does not allow a child to have two legal mothers.

Treatment of a single woman

Where a donated embryo is used in the treatment of a single woman, the woman who gives birth will be the legal mother of any resulting child. However, the law is not as explicit in such cases about who might be considered to be the legal father and there is a clear legal risk that the man whose sperm was used in the creation of the embryo may be considered the father.

The HFEA therefore advises any man intending to donate an embryo that was originally created for his partner’s and his own treatment to seek legal advice before doing so. In particular, he should satisfy himself about any potential to be recognised in law as the father of any child born if the embryo is donated to a single woman who does not have a husband or civil partner or has not entered into a parenthood agreement with another person.

One way of avoiding this potential uncertainty, is for a couple donating an embryo (or a man donating an embryo created during treatment with his partner) to consider placing a condition on the use of the donated embryo. The woman could, for example, state that the embryo should only go to a woman who is in a legally recognised relationship that gives legal parenthood to her husband or civil partner or who has consented to another person being the second parent to her children.

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Donating through non-licensed methods

If you plan to donate outside a licensed clinic, for example if you are considering donating fresh sperm, through an internet company, or for someone for use at home for example, we recommend you consult a solicitor first.

Where fresh donated sperm is used outside of an HFEA licensed clinic, the donor is considered by law to be the child's legal father, with all the responsibilities and rights that involves.

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Can donors be sued for any reason?

A donor-conceived person born with an abnormality could sue their donor for damages if it is proven that the donor had not told the clinic relevant facts about their or their families medical history when they donated.

This is why it is important to tell the clinic where you donate of any inherited disabilities, or physical or mental illnesses that affect you or anyone in your family.

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Further information

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Why donate through a licensed clinic?

All HFEA-licensed clinics must conform to strict medical, legal and ethical standards. This ensures that everyone involved in the donation is clear about their legal position and is protected by law.

Sperm, eggs and embryos donated through a clinic must be screened for certain medical conditions and quarantined for six months. This helps ensure babies born from donated sperm, eggs or embryos are healthy and that there are no risks to the woman who receives them.

We suggest you discuss these tests with staff at the clinic.

Page last updated: 08 August 2012

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