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Serious consequences for patients if sperm donors abruptly withdraw consent

Patients can face serious consequences if sperm donors in the UK change their mind about their sperm being used in fertility treatment, a study has found.

If a donor abruptly withdraws his consent it can mean embryos created from his sperm and a patient's eggs are destroyed. It can also mean a woman who has used a donor to have a child will be unable to have more children who are full biological siblings to the first child.

An article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reports that this has recently occurred in the UK.

The authors, Peter Sozou, from the London School of Economics and Political Science, Sally Sheldon, from the University of Kent, and Geraldine Hartshorne, from the University of Warwick, consider what steps can be taken to reduce the chance of these serious consequences occurring.

They propose that a sperm donor wishing to stop his sperm being used should be offered a choice of three options:

  • That embryos already created are kept and sperm can be used to create siblings in cases where the donor's sperm has already produced a child. However no new families can be started.
  • Embryos already created are kept but all sperm is destroyed
  •   All sperm and embryos are destroyed

They argue that the steps could be introduced within existing laws and believe some donors would opt for the first or second options, rather than the third which is the most severe.

The research focused on those who had donated after 1 April 2005, when lifelong anonymity for donors ended. Dr Sozou found three instances where donors withdrew their consent after their sperm had been released for use, as well as several who changed their minds in the initial stages. In one case stored embryosand sperm reserved for creating siblings were destroyed as a result of the donor's change of heart.

The authors write: "Wehave therefore established that withdrawal of consent by spermdonors is not just a hypothetical problem. It has serious consequencesfor patients."

They discovered that two of the men withdrew their consent due to the influence of a new female partner. The report suggests the removal of donor anonymity, which means they can be contacted by children conceived from donated sperm when they reach the age of 18, could affect the decision to withdraw consent.


To read the article in full click here.

For more information contact:

Claire Burke, LSE press office, T: 020 7955 7417, E: c.e.burke@lse.ac.uk

Or Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Communications Officer, University of Warwick, T: 02476 150483, E: k.e.parkes@warwick.ac.uk 

23 October 2009