Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

sperm donors have to reveal their identities so that they can be
traced by the children who were conceived with their help? So far
the law – the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 – has
come down in favour of anonymity for sperm donors. Baroness
Warnock, whose 1984 report led to the act and the establishment of
the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, espoused
anonymity because she believed few would put themselves forward if
they thought that their names might be known. But a conference in
London recently heard contrary evidence. Warnock now believes that
anonymity should be lifted because the alternative is that parents
are forced to deceive their children which, in her view, is
contrary to justice. Law professor Derek Morgan told the conference
that the 1990 act was in danger of breaching the Human Rights Act
1998, particularly its provisions concerning the right to privacy
and family life. Other speakers drew attention to parallels with
adoption law, which has given adopted children the right to trace
their natural parents since 1975.

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
BAAF Adoption and Fostering

“The lessons we have learned from the experiences of adopted people
must be applied – the basic human right to know your identity
cannot be determined according to the method by which you were
conceived. The minister stated at the recent report stage of the
Adoption and Children Bill that adopters would be required to make
a written commitment to tell children about their adoption before
they are 18. Adults involved in donor-assisted conception should
give the same undertaking.”

Phil Frampton, national
chairperson, Care Leavers Association

“Those who take action to bring children into the world or raise
children should accept their responsibilities. Many of us who were
put into care grew up surrounded by lies and deceptions about our
parents and our circumstances. Whether as child or adult, the
eventual discovery of such deception can cause enormous pain,
long-term harm to self-esteem, and can seriously impair ability to
trust others. Truths can be painful but lies and deception can be

Martin Green, chief executive,
Counsel and Care for the Elderly

“If there are to be any changes to the right to know the identity
of the father in donor-assisted conceptions, this should only be
done with new cases and not imposed retrospectively. Anonymity was
often part of the agreement made by both parties at the time of
conception and this should be respected. These are very complex
issues because they later involve the rights of a third party – the
child – and it is my view that they should not be entered into
unless clear thought is given to how both parties respond if the
child wants information on their parentage.”

Karen Warwick, senior
practitioner, Barnardo’s

“Of course there are parallels to be made with adoption. Research
shows that children with knowledge of their biological parents are
more secure in their identity. Thank goodness that Lady Warnock has
been honest enough to say that she has changed her mind in respect
of anonymity and believes that children should have knowledge of
how they were conceived and who their biological father is. With
this she has demonstrated that children are people with rights.
Children should be given this information and the parents who bring
the child up should be offered support in the delivery of

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society

“Lady Warnock is right to put children’s right to know first. It
doesn’t matter that research from adoption shows this does not lead
to a drop in adoptive parents. Morally and legally a child has a
right to know who his or her biological parents are. And, of
course, the Human Rights Act 1998, European Convention on Human
Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are there
if anyone disagrees!”


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