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The legal angle on unregulated sperm donation

LSE law reproduction

The regulation of sperm donation differs worldwide – some countries restrict access to heterosexual couples, for example, whilst others have no restrictions with regards to access. Regulation generally has two key purposes: to ensure that sperm donation is safe and effective, and to maintain an accurate register of information about donors and offspring.

In the UK, sperm donation falls within regulation through the licensing requirements set out in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFEA) Act 1990. Without a licence, it is a criminal offence to ‘procure, test, process or distribute any gametes intended for human application’. If online sperm donation involved the ‘procurement’ of sperm, it would be unlawful unless licensed by the HFEA.

The reason why online fertility donation, the kind that John is providing, falls outside of the remit of the HFEA is because introduction websites, in which would-be donors and would-be recipients get in touch with each other by email and make their own arrangements, are unlikely to involve ‘procurement’, and hence lie outside of the HFEA’s regulatory control.

However, the lack of regulation means an absence of guaranteed safeguards, but it does not mean that the law does not apply. These arrangements might be made outside of regulatory control, but they nevertheless have legal implications, as Prof Emily Jackson explains in this interview.

In many countries, including the UK, if conception was through natural insemination (NI), the donor will be the legal father of any child conceived as a result, and he will therefore acquire an obligation to pay child support, and a right to be consulted about certain important decisions until the child turns eighteen.

In the absence of regulation, prospective parents and donors, who are likely to have been strangers to each other before meeting online, will often be navigating co-parenting relationships without legal advice. There is scope for these arrangements to go wrong, and if the parents and donor cannot resolve the disagreements themselves, it may be left to the courts to resolve questions of parental responsibility.

Join the discussion
Which of the points made by Emily Jackson did you feel were particularly interesting? If you do not live in the UK, what do you know about the legislation in your country regarding online sperm donation?

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