Anonymous sperm and egg donation is over because of the rise of genetic testing at home, says new research

The effect of finding out a person's biological parents is easy – but can be traumatic for the people involved, the researchers say

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 13 April 2016 10:21
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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said it was reviewing the decision of the London Sperm Bank
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said it was reviewing the decision of the London Sperm Bank

Anonymous sperm and egg donation is effectively over, according to a leading expert.

The increasing popularity of home genetic testing is making it easy for people who were conceived using donors to find out their biological parent, researchers have said.

And that discovery can be “traumatic” for those who suddenly find out the truth, they have said, recommending that donor conception moves to be as open as possible and avoid the huge problems that anonymous donation can lead to.

The new research has the potential to uproot an entire industry and is published in the journal Human Reproduction.

One of its authors, genealogist Debbie Kennett, from University College London's Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, said: "Fertility clinics need to develop robust guidelines and procedures that enable them to integrate subsequent genomic data into their existing consent agreements.

"All parties concerned must be aware that, in 2016, donor anonymity does not exist."

More than three million people worldwide are already said to have signed up for private genetic testing, often via online companies and without taking advice from health professionals.

The tests are used to obtain information about ancestry or health. In many cases, DNA profiles are stored on international genetic genealogy databases that can turn up matches with long lost relatives.

Co-author Professor Joyce Harper, from University College London's Institute of Women's Health, said: "DNA tests are increasingly being used to solve unknown parentage cases for adoptees and donor-conceived persons.

"People are finding half-siblings and even biological parents in online databases that are open to the public. A sperm donor does not have to be in the database to be identified as identification can be made from matches with other close relatives such as second or third cousins.

"Using these genetic databases, donor-conceived adults who have not been informed of their status may find out that they are donor-conceived, which may lead to traumatic breakdown of trust with parents."

Recently, there has been a move within the scientific community and more widely towards greater openness about genetic data.

Many more patients are going to know information about their genomes, or genetic codes, in the future, said the experts.

The situation is complicated by the fact that different countries, even within the European Union, have different laws on gamete donation, donor anonymity and parental disclosure.

Dr Dan Reisel, from University College London's Centre for Ethics in Women's Health, said: "These concerns make urgent a wide-ranging societal conversation about how to best safeguard and promote the interests of donor-conceived offspring and protect the rights of donors."

Additional reporting by Press Association

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