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Voluntary donor register launched in UK

Dr. Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

23 April 2004

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[BioNews, London] A voluntary register that enables people conceived using donated eggs, sperm or embryos to contact their donors and biological half-siblings has been launched in the UK. The registry, called UK DonorLink and funded by the Department of Health (DH), can be used by anyone over the age of 18 and offers genetic testing to match offspring with donors, and other biologically related offspring who are also registered with the service.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990 requires that all donor-conceived births are registered. Since the HFE Act was passed, about 25,000 people have been born in the UK following the use of donated embryos or gametes. An estimated 12,000 people were conceived using donor egg or sperm before then. The law does not currently allow children conceived using donor sperm or eggs to discover the identity of donors, but only to find out small amounts of non-identifying information about the donor when they reach the age of 18. The new register, first announced by former public health minister, Hazel Blears, in January 2003, is initially piloting voluntary contact for people conceived before the HFE Act came into force in 1991. People can provide personal details and DNA samples and, if a match is found with someone else on the register, they will be put in touch. If the pilot is successful, it is likely to be extended to include those offspring born after the 1991 cut-off date.

In January 2004, Melanie Johnson MP, the current public health minister, announced that the DH had decided that people who donate eggs, sperm or embryos in the UK are to lose their right to anonymity. Its decision followed a review of the existing law, and consultation with the public and with clinics. The change to the existing law will come into effect from 1 April 2005. This means that the first time people will be able to receive identifying information about donors is in 2023. But the changed law will not operate retrospectively, meaning that some people will still have unknown donors. Some of those may register with UK DonorLink if they are happy to be traced.

Lyndsey Marshall, manager of UK DonorLink, said 'we encourage people to use the register knowing that confidentiality is assured', adding 'there is no intention to track people down against their express wishes; indeed information can be exchanged without revealing the identity of either party, if desired'.

© 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: 23 April 2004   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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