The documentary '25 siblings and me' became available on BBC iPlayer last Sunday. It follows the story of 21 year old, Oli. Oli's parents (a UK based same-sex couple) travelled to the USA for sperm donation and IVF in 1998 to conceive Oli.
Oli discovers he has 25 siblings (and potentially more that remain anonymous) through the non-profit organisation Donor Sibling Registry. Oli is the only UK based sibling to his knowledge. After Oli makes contact with the relevant sperm bank, Oli is also put in contact with his sperm donor.
Meetings in the USA are arranged between Oli, his half siblings, and their donor. The meetings, unsurprisingly, bring with them complex emotions and conversations. The documentary provides a fascinating insight into Oli's experience. It also provokes the question whether the same situation could arise if the sperm donation had taken place in the UK.
Is the same situation as in '25 siblings and me' likely to occur in the UK?
In short, no. The chances of there being 26 siblings from one donor is slim. Provided a UK clinical setting has been used for the donation, it is unlikely due to the comparatively tighter regulation of assisted reproduction in the UK. In the UK, donors can only be used for a maximum of ten families. The donor must not be paid in the UK.
This is not the case in the USA. In the USA, no limit is placed on the number of families that a donor can facilitate conception for, and donors typically are paid by clinics.
Is it possible to find donor siblings in the UK?
Whilst the Donor Sibling Registry has members worldwide, it is not in any way mandatory for donors or donor-conceived people to be members. A child conceived by sperm donation would not necessarily be able to find out about other siblings. It is also less likely for there to be as many as 26 (plus potentially many more) siblings conceived from the same donor in the UK.
Informal donation versus donation in a clinical setting: what's the difference?
For a prospective parent considering using sperm donation to conceive, there are many important considerations. For example, whether or not to use a licensed clinic. Unlike other medically complex fertility treatments, using a sperm donor to conceive can be achieved without medical intervention. Why, then, would prospective parents opt to use a clinic?
This is partly down to the fact that clinics carry out a screening process in relation to donors and their sperm to try to mitigate many health risks. Separately, legal protections apply where donation takes place in a clinical setting, but, importantly, do not apply outside of a clinical setting. Proceeding with sperm donation outside of a clinical setting, presents the risk of the donor becoming a legal parent of the child conceived as a result. Read our previous Insight on this here.
So why do people end up not using clinics where such risks are involved? For some, using a clinic may not be an option: due to financial constraints, or if the clinic's health-related criteria cannot be met by the prospective parent(s). This leaves some prospective parent(s) with little choice.
The laws in relation to assisted reproduction in the UK and the USA are clearly different. One difference being that donors in the USA are able to help an unlimited number of families to conceive. '25 siblings and me' raises many profound questions, in relation to the rights of donor-conceived children to access information about their genetic relatives, and also the lack of donor anonymity. A fascinating documentary, well worth a watch.