Common questions about fertility treatment
You can talk to your healthcare team about fertility treatment, but here are some common questions.
Is the treatment safe?
Staff working in fertility centres are trained to very high standards, and great care is taken over the treatments. Centres are also inspected regularly by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
Before having treatment, you and your partner (if you have one) will be given information about any risks of the particular treatment you are advised to have. You will then be asked to sign a legal consent form. You should be given a copy of the consent form. The form sets out everything you have agreed (consented) to.
When can I use my stored sperm, eggs or embryos?
You can use your sperm, eggs or embryos whenever the time feels right for you. You and your partner (if you have one) will be offered a medical consultation and can talk things through with a counsellor before making a final decision.
Who can use my stored sperm, eggs or embryos?
No one else can use your sperm, eggs or embryos unless you have given your legal, written consent to this.
When you first stored them, you signed a consent form. You can change your consent form at any time up until you have treatment. The most recent consent form always applies.
The form tells the sperm bank or fertility clinic how long you want the sperm, eggs or embryos to be kept in storage. The standard storage period for sperm is 10 years, but in some circumstances they can be stored for a maximum of 55 years. The form also states:
the name of any partner that you agree to have fertility treatment using the eggs, sperm or embryos
whether you agree to your sample(s) being used for research
what you would like to happen to your sample(s) if you die before the maximum storage period of 55 years is reached.
Will I be the legal parent?
The law is very clear. If you use a licensed fertility treatment centre and have a baby using donated sperm, eggs or embryos, the person who gives birth is the legal mother.
If you’re married or in a civil partnership, you automatically share all legal rights and responsibilities as parents.
If you’re not married, you get the same rights as married couples if the male partner consents before treatment that he intends to become the legal father.
If you’re a single woman going through treatment, you will be the legal mother and will have full legal rights and responsibilities for the baby.
If you are a lesbian couple, you can have the same rights as a heterosexual couple if, before treatment, you both consent to being the legal parents of any child born.
If you use sperm or eggs from somewhere that isn’t a licensed fertility treatment centre (for example, through the internet), then the legal protections mentioned above do not apply.
If you use a surrogate mother the law is different, and you’ll need to apply to the courts for full parental legal responsibilities.
If you aren’t sure about your legal status as a parent, you should ask for legal advice straight away from a solicitor who specialises in child and family law, as the legal situation changes from time to time.
What rights do the children have?
Children born after fertility treatment using your own eggs or sperm have exactly the same rights as any child conceived naturally. Children born after fertility treatment using surrogacy or donated eggs or sperm have a legal right, when they reach the age of 16, to receive non-identifying information about their donor(s). At 18, people can find out the identity of their donor(s). This would only happen after everyone involved has had appropriate counselling. At 18, people can also be provided with information about any siblings that were conceived using the same donor(s).
It’s generally accepted that children cope better if you’re open with them from an early age about how they were conceived.
If you decide not to tell your child, it’s important to bear in mind that if you tell anyone else at all (such as your parents or friends), that increases the chance that your child will find out accidentally at some time. Finding out such facts by accident can be distressing and cause emotional harm to the child.
What support is available if I have fertility treatment?
Using fertility treatment, especially when it involves a donor, is a big step to take and one that you need to feel comfortable about. If you have a partner, you’ll need to talk about it openly and honestly with each other. You may also want to discuss it with family and friends - but it’s important to be aware that not everyone you know may feel okay about these treatments.
Some people like to talk through all the issues with professionals that they already know (for example doctors, nurses and social workers). You can also talk to professionals such as the counsellors and other staff in the fertility clinics.
There are support groups available for people using fertility treatments, such as Infertility Network UK, which produces a range of helpful leaflets. The support group Donor Conception Network (see page 96) is for people who have had children using sperm, egg or embryo donation. It also produces a series of leaflets for prospective parents and story books for children.
How successful are fertility treatments?
This is difficult to answer, as it varies according to each person’s health and medical condition. When you go to see the specialist, they are often able to give you a good idea about your chances of being able to get pregnant. However, the treatments have no guarantee of success and many people don’t manage to become parents this way.
What if the treatment doesn’t work?
It’s always upsetting if the treatment fails. The doctors at the clinic can advise you on what your chances of success might be if you tried again. Of course, having another fertility treatment might be affected by whether it feels right for you emotionally. There may also be other issues for you, including whether or not you have to pay.
Counsellors in the fertility clinics can help with talking this through. There are also support groups for people who have decided to end treatment when they haven’t achieved a pregnancy.
Are there any possible future treatments?
There are always new developments in the pipeline. However, sometimes the way they get reported in the newspapers or on TV can be misleading. You can ask your doctor or check with another useful organisation to get accurate information about anything you hear about.
What if my religion says I shouldn’t use these treatments?
Some religions are opposed to any type of fertility treatment. Some don’t support the use of sperm, egg or embryo donation. If this is an issue for you, you may want to discuss it with your partner, family or religious adviser. You could also talk in confidence with a trained counsellor or social worker.