It’s a mess and a muddle. We’re not talking cannabis here but what
is deemed to be in the best interests of a child, a subject which,
in the public arena, appears increasingly fraught.
Sperm donor children have now won the right to trace their
biological fathers at 18. Previously, a man could anonymously
“donate” his sperm in return for up to £15 – a payment of
£150 in total if he donated the maximum number of times: 10
children without strings.
Now, Melanie Johnson, the public health minister, wants to give
sperm donation the same kudos as the act of giving blood – except,
of course, volunteering a pint is nothing like discovering a young
adult on your door in search of his or her history and, perhaps, a
In Sweden, the loss of anonymity in 1985 resulted initially in a
deep dip in donors but now the supply has been restored. It is fair
that the 800 children a year born as a result of donor insemination
in the UK should have access to knowledge of their origins. “We
live in an age where, as technology continues to develop, our
genetic background will become increasingly important,” says
That sounds a cold and calculating act of self-preservation. We
know that many adopted and donor children want to know where they
come from for strong emotional reasons, not least to fit together
the missing pieces of their identity.
Also last week, Suzi Leather, chairperson of the regulatory body,
the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, urged a change in
the law that requires a woman who wants a baby to provide a father
figure. The move is necessary, she says, because lesbian and single
women are “trying to get hold of sperm on the internet”.
If this sperm is unscreened any medical risk to the child’s health
would be unknown and, again, the donor would be anonymous.
However, no parent – regardless of their sexual orientation or
whether they are in a permanent relationship – will be obliged by
law to tell their children about their origins, thus handicapping
their right at 18 to seek out the donor. The method by which a
child is conceived will not be included on a birth certificate. In
Sweden a recent survey revealed that 89 per cent of donor
insemination parents had not told their sons and daughters.
So, yet again, while lip-service is being paid to children’s rights
– in practice, it’s the needs of adults which are taking