Children born through sperm or egg donation would not need to wait until adulthood to learn more about their birth parents, according to proposed changes to the law in the UK.
Currently, donor-conceived children cannot obtain information about their biological parents until they are 18 years old. the giver chooses.
Parents would need to decide at the time of treatment whether 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 the fertility law has withstood the test of time remarkably well, but modern fertility practice, emerging possibilities in research that could benefit patients, and changes in donor expectations and of families are not reflected in the sector’s 30-year-old law.
“The HFE Act is the cornerstone of fertility regulation imposed by the HFEA to ensure that clinics provide safe, high-standard 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 treatments in the UK.
The HFEA also wants more power to regulate “additional” 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 proposed that it should have more power to regulate these extra treatments. Last year, the Competition and Markets Authority warned that fertility clinics were not providing information about the evidence or risks associated with treatment add-ons.
He said add-ons can 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 interests of patients and their families.
“This includes providing more up-to-date powers to inspect and regulate fertility clinics in the interests of patients and greater choice regarding donor anonymity.”
She added: “There is great care being provided on the NHS and in the private sector. But the enforcement powers we currently have – suspending or removing a license – are too slow and forceful.
“We need a more agile and gradual approach, like other regulators, who help shape clinic behavior and deal with serious cases of non-compliance quickly.
“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 necessary to ensure that only proven effective treatments are recommended by clinics.
“We also want patients to be at the heart of the fertility law – the HFE Act. It must recognize the quality of patient care as an important outcome, making the law more patient-centric and in line with modern medicine.”
Experts have suggested that the 30-year-old law is out of date. The HFEA said the act is “silent on patient care” as it called for the ability to take “proportionate action where patient safety is at risk.”
The agency said it should have the option to fine clinics that perform poorly, saying its current range of sanctions is “limited”. It also called for sharing patient records between general practitioners and fertility clinics.
Every year around 60,000 patients use fertility services in the UK and in England 60% of patients pay for their own treatment.
Gwenda Burns, Executive Director of the charity Fertility Network UK, said: “Fertility Network UK welcomes the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority’s consultation on the fertility law.
“Health care and society have changed over the past three decades, and modernizing the law can bring benefits to patients and their families.”
The HFEA consultation opened on February 28 and will run for six weeks on the regulator’s website. He will submit his recommendations for changes to the law to the Department of Health and Social Care by the end of the year.