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Using a sperm donor: what you need to know

Facts to consider when using donor sperm, including how to choose a donor, your rights and how to find a fertility clinic.

Making the decision to start a family with the help of a sperm donor can be difficult, and there are many issues to consider. Here's what you need to know.

Donor sperm can help you become a parent, regardless of your sexuality, gender, and whether you're, single, married, divorced or cohabiting.

This page covers:

Finding donor sperm

How donor sperm is used

Finding a fertility clinic

Checks done on donor sperm

Your legal rights

Sperm donation by private arrangement

Going abroad for donor sperm

Finding donor sperm

There are three main ways:

  • You can use sperm from an anonymous donor by going to a licensed fertility clinic. These clinics may have their own stock of frozen donated sperm, or they may buy it in from a sperm bank. You may also be able to use sperm from abroad through your fertility clinic, but they will need a special licence to do this.
  • You can use a donor you already know – such as a friend or a donor you have met through an introduction website. You and the donor can either go together to a fertility clinic, or you can have a private arrangement whereby the donor provides a fresh sperm sample directly to you, often in your home. It's important to remember that if you don't go to a licensed fertility clinic, the sperm you use will not go through the same tests, and there can be risks.
  • You can go abroad for treatment with donor sperm.

How donor sperm is used

Donor sperm is usually used to help a woman become pregnant via a process called artificial insemination, or intrauterine insemination (IUI).

It's a straightforward procedure where a fine tube or syringe containing the donor sperm is put inside the vagina, cervix or womb (uterus) during the woman's fertile time of the month.

Donor sperm can also be used as part of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) if necessary.

Read more about artificial insemination.

Read more about IVF.

Finding a fertility clinic

There is a UK-wide network of fertility clinics, both NHS and private, licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA).

The waiting lists for donor sperm vary from clinic to clinic, so you may want to check waiting times with a number of clinics before choosing where to have your treatment.

If you're hoping to have fertility treatment on the NHS, you need a referral from your GP. To get a referral, you need to meet certain criteria – these differ depending on where you live, so ask your GP for more information about the criteria in your area.

You can use the HFEA's Choose a fertility clinic search to find a clinic near you.

If you wish to use donor sperm purchased from another country in a UK fertility clinic, they'll need a separate licence to use it. Some clinics may charge extra for this service.

Checks done on donor sperm

HFEA-licensed fertility clinics and sperm banks have to carry out a number of tests on any donor sperm they use to make sure it's safe. If you go to a licensed fertility clinic and are using a friend's sperm or privately arranged donor sperm, the same tests will need to be done.

They include testing for infections, such as chlamydia, syphilis, hepatitis, gonorrhoea and HIV, as well as for certain genetic disorders. Licensed clinics will also have support and legal advice on hand.

If you use donor sperm from a licensed clinic, you won't know the identity of the donor. But you will be able to find out non-identifying information, such as his ethnicity, personal characteristics, year of birth and medical history.

You will also be able to find out if your child has any donor-conceived siblings from the same donor, the siblings' gender and their year of birth.

At age 16, your child will also be able to access this donor and donor-conceived-sibling information.

And importantly, when your child reaches 18, they will be able to ask for the identifying information the donor provided (name, date of birth, last known address and so on). At 18, your child can also join the Donor Sibling Link, which helps donor siblings exchange contact details if they would like to.

This new law came into play in April 2005 – before then, sperm donors were anonymous. Read the HFEA's information on how your child can get information on their sperm donor and potential siblings.

Your legal rights

If you use donated sperm from a licensed clinic, you can rest assured that the donor will not:

  • be the legal parent of your child
  • have any legal obligation to the child
  • be named on the birth certificate
  • have any rights over how the child will be brought up
  • be required to support the child financially

You will have parental responsibility and, if you're married or in a civil partnership, your spouse will automatically be the child's second legal parent (unless it can be shown that he or she did not consent to treatment).

If you are in a relationship, your partner will be the second legal parent if you both sign the relevant consent form available from your clinic.

Sperm donation by private arrangement

Using donor sperm from someone you already know, or who you have met via an introduction agency with a private arrangement, is unregulated and potentially risky. However, it might suit people in certain circumstances – for instance, if you want ongoing contact with the donor during the child's life.

You won't have the legal and medical protection that a licensed clinic offers, and you can't be sure the donor sperm has been tested and checked for safety. You may, therefore, decide to go to the clinic together so that you have the necessary legal and medical protection.

If you do decide to go through with a private arrangement outside of a fertility clinic, you will always be the child's mother. However, the law on who will be the child's other parent is less clear. It's possible that the sperm donor will be the legal father of your child, depending on:

  • whether you're single, married or in a civil partnership
  • whether the insemination took place through artificial insemination or sexual intercourse
  • who is named on the birth certificate
  • whether the donor will have established a relationship with the child

Going abroad for donor sperm

Going overseas for treatment with donated sperm may seem an attractive option if it's cheaper or the waiting list is shorter.

But remember that different safety and legal rules may apply with foreign clinics. If you go to a UK-licensed fertility clinic, the donor has no legal responsibility or rights over the child – this is not necessarily the case if you have treatment abroad.

Always do your research before going ahead with treatment abroad, specifically to find out about:

  • the clinic's standards and safety issues
  • legal issues surrounding sperm donors and parental responsibility
  • the process the foreign clinic uses to recruit and screen sperm donors
  • whether there are any limits on the number of families that can be created per donor (in the UK, it's 10 families)
  • what information you can access about the sperm donor and what information your child will be able to access
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