The hopes that people conceived from donated sperm, eggs or embryos will be able to discover the identities of their genetic parents were dashed yesterday when the Government retreated from a decision on ending donor anonymity.

The hopes that people conceived from donated sperm, eggs or embryos will be able to discover the identities of their genetic parents were dashed yesterday when the Government retreated from a decision on ending donor anonymity.

The Department of Health said it would introduce legislation allowing the 1,000 people born annually through donor insemination to learn of their genetic father's or mother's height, occupation, religion and interests. But, in a low-key written statement, the Health minister Hazel Blears told the Commons that any decision on waiving anonymity would be put off for at least six months to allow more discussion with clinics and donors.

"We agree that there is a strong argument in principle for children conceived using donated sperm, eggs or embryos being able to find out the identity of their donor," she said at a conference in London. "However, we believe that this sensitive area needs further consideration and debate – very few fertility clinics responded to our consultation exercise." Ministers fear that donors would be put off by the possibility of being identified in the future against their wishes, and that this would lead to a drop in sperm or eggs made available for infertility treatments.

The new rules would come into force in 2010. In the meantime, officials will look at the possibility of setting up a pilot scheme for a voluntary contact register for donor-conceived people aged 18 and over.

Nuala Scarisbrick, of the charity Life, said: "The whole business of [anonymous] sperm donation, where children are reduced to commodities, is wrong, and the fact that resulting children never know their biological fathers compounds this. Children have a right to know their biological background for medical and emotional reasons. Protecting sperm donors' anonymity encourages the view that fatherhood is to be undertaken lightly."

Rupert Rushbrooke, director of Bloodlines, a pressure group campaigning for the rights of children created by sperm donation, said Ms Blears had "backtracked" from ministers' earlier proposals to remove anonymity for future conceptions. He said: "The Government was clearly ready to remove the secrecy in donor conception, but their decision has very obviously been vetoed by the medical profession."

Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "Clearly we are disappointed that the Government feel we can't move to an open system now but today's proposals are a step in the right direction.

"What is now needed is a change in the climate of thinking about infertility. A move towards open donation is a move towards a genuine acceptance of donor insemination. A detailed register of donors is kept, yet people still cannot find out who their parents are. It is essentially a matter of principle."

Clare Brown, executive director of Child, the national infertility support network, said she was in favour of the voluntary register. "It gives society time to change their views and provide a more staggered system of implementing new regulation," she said. "More work needs to be done to understand the issues, such as why 75 per cent of mothers who have had donor insemination do not tell their children."

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