DNA test kits are transforming donor families

A law passed on 1 April 2005 will have life-changing consequences for families across the UK from next year.

Anyone born from a donated sperm, egg or embryo from that day onwards can discover the identity of their donor parents once they reach the age of 18. This means that starting in late 2023, there may be a flood of young people wanting to know who the donor was. But thanks to at-home DNA testing, many people who have been conceived by donors are already revealing their biological origins in a process that can be emotionally challenging.

There were around 1,500 live births in the UK as a result of egg or sperm donation in that first year the law was changed (April 1, 2005 – March 31, 2006). I can only imagine the meetings and emotions, wonderful and challenging, that families will have in the coming year.

This will also be a watershed moment for Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the independent regulator that regulates fertility treatment (and research on human embryos) in the UK and will oversee the process.

But not all people envisioned by donors will see the benefit of this law. Anyone who became pregnant after August 1991 can only find out non-identifying information such as eye color or the donor’s country of birth. This was when the HFEA was set up to record all uses of donated eggs, sperm and embryos as well as to regulate licensed fertility clinics in the UK.

Prior to August 1991, fertility treatment was a bit of a wild west and anyone born before this period would have little chance of knowing who the donor was. They must wait for their donor to come forward and raise anonymity through HFEA. Or the donor (and the donor) can put themselves on Donor Register (DCR), set up to match parents of donors before 1991 and children and siblings who share the same donor.

Do it yourself DNA

That was the case at least until there was an explosion of home DNA test kits afterwards 23andme The first direct-to-consumer tests were released in 2006. They can be purchased online for £50. He thinks it’s over 30 million people These test kits are purchased all over the world.

This third way of tracing your biological family is one of the ways I know well as a master genetic genealogist BBC 2 DNA family secrets Hosted by Stacy Dooley. Genetic testing companies have vast databases that make it increasingly easy to find a donor.

You can simply take a DNA test and look for people who match your DNA. If you cannot fit these matches into your known family tree, it may be because they are from the donor family. Sometimes people get matches with a donor or sibling donor right away.

small colorful balloons with ribbon
Many men donated sperm and assumed it could not be traced.
Olioli/Shutterstock

The first such case made headlines in 2005 when a 15-year-old boy bought a Y chromosome test in the hope of find his father. The Y chromosome is a piece of DNA that is passed down the male line, from father to son, often like a surname.

The boy’s Y chromosome test showed a match with two men who must have been related to his sperm donor father. They also have spelling variants of the same surname. Armed with his father’s date, birthplace, college degree, and potential surname, he turned to Omnitrace, a private investigator. Within hours, he tracked down his supposedly anonymous sperm donor father.

Since then, genetic testing has become more advanced. You can even hire a genetic genealogist to do the work for you, although success is not guaranteed. Gates open well and real.

family secrets

In the second series of DNA family secretsAired in 2022, 46-year-old Mel came to us wondering if she could find out about her sperm donor father. Testing with two large direct-to-consumer companies revealed relatively two matches. It took literally minutes to find out that her donor father was one of three siblings. DNA test One of their sons joined the dots.

On the other side of the coin is 53-year-old Locke, who, after the death of his best friend, began to think about the consequences of donating his sperm in the 1980s and 1990s. He knew from HFEA that he had at least six children but had no idea who they were. He has come to the secrets of the DNA family to raise the level of anonymity. He not only put himself on a DCR, but also performed DNA tests. At the time of broadcast, no other people have been found, but they may come forward in the future.

Luke is rare. Just over 200 men, out of several thousand men who have donated sperm over the years, lifted their anonymity before changing donor anonymity rules.

Some men donate sperm to pay the compensation (Set £35 in UK), and others for altruistic reasons to help infertile couples.

Other men contacted me to share their stories. They donated sperm years ago and this was discovered after they or one of their relatives took a DNA test with a major company. Some have never told their partners or children that they have donated. The emotional resonance with their families can be enormous. Mel and Luke both benefited from behind-the-scenes support from the social workers and counselors we provide as part of the programme. Others do not.

HFEA is Consider raising an unknown donor Retroactively. Any change in the law is up to Parliament to decide. The Australian government did it with Nariel’s Law Named after a woman who died of bowel cancer inherited from her donor father.

Next year could bring some extraordinary encounters. Now is the time to discuss how society treats and supports those born before 2005.

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