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Same-sex female couples, donor sperm and fertility treatment

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

For same-sex female couples who want to start a family, donor sperm is needed.

At X&Y Fertility in Leicester, our clinic offers fully-licensed insemination treatments, known as IUI (intrauterine insemination) or simply DI (donor insemination). This is a safe, low-cost treatment which avoids the use of fertility drugs. If we use donor sperm from our on-site licensed sperm bank, this can avoid costs of importing sperm from overseas, where many of the bigger sperm banks are located.

Same-sex female couples and IVF treatment

For same-sex female couples who want to both be biologically involved, an alterative option could be for one of the couple to provide her egg for fertilisation using donor sperm in an IVF clinic. The fertilised egg can then be gently transferred to her partner's womb, so that the second partner carries the pregnancy. This can also increase the chance of success if one partner is younger, and may therefore have better quality eggs which may be more likely to result in a successful full-term pregnancy for the older partner.

New consent forms for IVF

For the IVF option, a new consent form (WPT form) needs to be completed by the egg provider, to clearly reflect how the eggs will be used in the treatment of her partner who will carry the pregnancy.

Defining a "partner"

However, this has highlighted an outdated hick-up in the UK law surrounding fertility treatment, This was originally written back in 1990 and how people create families has changed significantly over the past 30 years.

According to current UK law, “partner-created embryos” are defined as ‘embryos created using the gametes of a man and a woman who declare that they have an intimate physical relationship’. This means that the term ‘partner donation' is the donation of reproductive cells between a man and a woman only. As such, this excludes two women who are in a same-sex relationship.

So, at the moment, an egg provider donating to her female partner must not only be fully screened as a partner, but must be also undergo extra screening as a donor. This involves additional costs, which needs careful consideration, given that the IVF option already comes at a much higher expense than IUI, involves use of fertility drugs and is a more invasive process.

What can we d0?

The UK fertility regulator, the HFEA, is aware of the concerns of the additional costs and burden that this screening requirement involves for same-sex female couples. They have raised this concern with the Department of Health and Social Care.

Given that the Equality Act of 2010 protects people from discrimination in wider society, we would welcome changes to the UK law regarding the definition of partner donation, However, we appreciate these changes won't happen overnight.

UPDATE 14 November 2021 - thanks to everyone who has contacted us with your views. We'll continue to campaign against discrimination to ensure equal rights for LGBTQ. Meantime, Bionews has released a supportive article on this same topic.

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