IDOA Report 2008: United Kingdom
[This report was written by Tom Ellis.]
The UK Government submitted its Human Tissues and Embryos draft bill for consideration before a committe consisting of Lords and Commons members in Summer 2007. The bill contained proposals for merging the HFEA and Human Tissues Authority, amongst other amendments to the 1990 HFE Act.
The bill contained very little by way of consideration of donor-conceived people, and UK activists saw this as an opportunity to legislate for their rights. David Gollancz, Tom Ellis, and Christine Whipp submitted written evidence to the committe, and Jo Rose presented oral evidence.
The issues we initially pressed for were:
1. birth certificates: to record information of the fact of donor-conception, and the identity of the donor, on donor-conceived people's birth certificates.
2. earlier access to identifying information: to allow donor-conceived people access to information on the HFEA register from age 16 or earlier.
3. retrospective identity release: given that donors are no longer allowed to be anonymous, that the HFEA should be required to release identifying information about donors to their offspring conceived between 1991 and 2005.
As a result of our lobbying, the committee reported that "We recognise the force of the argument that the fact of donor conception should be registered on a person's birth certificate" and that "We therefore recommend that, as a matter of urgency, the Government should give this matter further consideration."
Regarding earlier access to identifying information they said "We recommend that the age of access to the Register should be reduced to 16."
I don't think the committee responded on the point of retrospective identity release.
The next stage for the bill was discussion in the House of Lords. We decided to focus on lobbying regarding the birth certificates issue. David Gollancz produced several drafts for a briefing pack detailing our argument, before printing them and sending them to many interested members of the Lords.
Notable amongst those fighting our cause were Lord Jenkin, Earl Howe and Baroness Warnock.
There was a fair amount of debate on this issue in the Lords, with notable quotes being posted at Tom's blog: http://donorissue.blogspot.com/
The Lords tabled a variety of amendments in our favour before the bill was passed to the Commons.
Discussion of the Bill in the Commons was very brief and the birth certificates issue was not mentioned at all, with most of the time being spent on the issues of abortion and human/animal hybrid embryos.
The bill was passed on 22nd October, without any provisions regarding the birth certificates of donor-conceived people. However, during the progression of the bill, government representatives have repeatedly stated that they will look at the issue of birth certification within four years.
The government have plans to make all fathers (from natural conceptions) register on the child's birth certificate. It may be possible to lobby further during consideration of this proposed legislation.