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Parent status of sperm donors in the spotlight

Antony Blackburn-Starza

Progress Educational Trust

06 January 2008

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[BioNews, London] A UK sperm donor has announced that a decision to make him pay child maintenance, after he donated his sperm in a private arrangement to a lesbian couple, is being reconsider by the Child Support Agency (CSA). Andy Bathie, a fireman, donated his sperm informally to Sharon and Terri Arnold for home insemination. Bathie alleges that the donation was made as a favour and there was an agreement that he would play no part in the child's life and would also not be required to pay maintenance.

The CSA became involved after Terri and Sharon Arnold, who had entered into a civil partnership, separated. Bathie's salary was docked £420 a month for child maintenance payments but reports that the couple are back together have prompted Bathie to consider taking his case to the High Court. After Bathie staged a media campaign he was contacted by the CSA who told him they might review its decision. 'The CSA said "what can we do for you?" I'm not going to hold my breath. But they said they were going to look into it', said Bathie. The CSA has not confirmed that it is reconsidering Bathie's case, as it says that it does not comment on individual cases.

Under UK law, donors who do not go though registered donation centres are considered to be the legal parents of any children conceived. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as it currently stands will recognise both partners in a civil partnership as legal parents of a child, but the law will not be retroactive and so will not affect Bathie's case. Enfield North MP, Joan Ryan, has written to the Government asking it to review its proposals.

In a similar case in the United States, Joel McKiernan was made to pay up to $1,500 a month by the lower courts to support twins conceived using his sperm by his former girlfriend, Ivonne Ferguson, even though she allegedly promised not to seek maintenance. The decision has now been reversed. In overturning the initial ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court indicated that such a ruling against McKiernan could adversely affect the practice of donation. 'Where a would-be donor cannot trust that he is safe from a future support action, he will be considerably less likely to provide his sperm to a friend or acquaintance who asks, significantly limiting a would-be mother's reproductive prerogatives', said Mr Justice Max Baer for the majority. Commenting on the case, bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, said that 'it sounds like the Pennsylvania court is trying to push a little harder into the brave new world of sperm, egg and embryo donation as it's evolving'. The decision breaks the trend seen in a series of previous cases where the child's interests were considered to take priority over the interests of the donor and donors were forced to make child maintenance payments.

In a related development in the US, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) has announced a proposal to construct a national registry that would identify egg or sperm donors. The move comes after the case of Krystie, a child born with Tay-Sachs, to a lesbian couple through anonymous egg donation, was widely reported in the US media. Tay-Sachs is a degenerative condition, which predominately affects the Eastern European Jewish community, and both parents must carry the abnormality for it to be passed to a child. Children with Tay-Sachs will usually die before their fifth birthday. Donated gametes can often be used in a number of donor-conception arrangements. It is hoped the registry will make it easier to track unsuitable sperm or eggs, alerting the parents of children conceived, if necessary and preventing further arrangements from being made.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 06 January 2008   Date Updated: 06 January 2008
Customer Reviews (1)
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Carl R   29 August 2011
Anybody can write an informal contract, just stating it's being done as a favor requested by the mother, that there was NO sex involved, and the mother waives all rights for childcare support in the future. That signed by both parties would stop this from ever happening, in probably all cases.

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