Children born through sperm or egg donation would not have to wait until adulthood to find out more about their biological parents, under proposed changes to UK law.
Currently, donor-conceived children cannot obtain information about their biological parents until the age of 18. But the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said the law needs to be updated so that this information can be made available after the birth of a child, should the donor choose.
Parents would need to decide at the time of treatment if they would like to choose a donor who is identifiable before or after their future child turns 18.
Any decision to update the law rests with the government and, ultimately, with parliament.
HFEA President Julia Chain said: “Much of fertility law has withstood the test of time remarkably well, but modern fertility practice, emerging possibilities in research that could benefit patients and expectations changing donors and families, are not reflected in the 30-year law of the sector.
“The HFE Act is the cornerstone of fertility regulation enforced by the HFEA to ensure that clinics provide high-level and safe services to patients; we are in a unique position to see where the law works well and where it doesn’t.”
The proposal to change the age restrictions is one of several suggested changes to the law governing fertility treatment in the UK.
The HFEA also wants more power to regulate “add-on” treatments, the optional extras offered by some clinics that can cost patients thousands of pounds. Some fertility clinics refer patients to sister companies that offer advice on health, wellness and diet.
The HFEA has proposed that it should have more power to regulate these additional treatments. Last year, the Competition and Markets Authority warned that fertility clinics were not providing information on the evidence or risks associated with treatment supplements.
He said the plugins could cost up to £2,500 per cycle.
Chain continued: “With input from an expert advisory group, we have identified where the law needs to be modernized in the interest of patients and their families.
“This includes providing more up-to-date powers to inspect and regulate fertility clinics in the interest of patients and greater choice around donor anonymity.”
He added: “Great care is offered both in the NHS and in the private sector. But the enforcement powers that we currently have, to suspend or remove a license, are too slow and forceful.
“We need a more agile and gradual approach like other regulators to help shape clinic behavior and quickly address serious breaches.
“A good example of this is treatment supplements. As noted in the recent women’s health strategy, changes to the HFEA’s regulatory powers may be needed to ensure that clinics only recommend treatments that have been shown to be effective.
“We also want patients to be at the center of the fertility law: the HFE Law. It should recognize the quality of patient care as a key outcome, making the law more patient-focused and in line with modern medicine.”
Experts have suggested that the 30-year-old law is out of date. The HFEA said the law “says nothing about patient care” as it requires the ability to take “proportionate action when patient safety is at risk.”
The agency said it should be given the option of fining poorly performing clinics, saying its current range of sanctions was “limited.” He also called for the sharing of patient records between GPs and fertility clinics.
Every year around 60,000 patients use fertility services in the UK and in England 60% of patients will pay for their own treatment.
Gwenda Burns, chief executive of the charity Fertility Network UK, said: “Fertility Network UK welcomes the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority’s consultation on fertility law.
“Health and society have changed in the last three decades and modernizing the law can bring benefits for patients and their families.”
The HFEA consultation opened on February 28 and will run for six weeks on the regulator’s website. It will submit its recommendations for changes in the law to the Department of Health and Social Care by the end of the year.