The German government is finally making good on its promise to the children of sperm donors by setting up a central database to make it easier for them to find their biological fathers.
Health Minister Hermann Gröhe's draft law, shown to DW but not yet published, includes a plan to create a central database of the names and addresses of donors whose donations resulted in a birth.
Sperm donations have been collected in Germany since 1970, and according to the Spenderkinder Verein ("organization for donor-conceived children"), over 120,000 sperm donor children have been born since then, and more than a thousand more are born each year. The constitutional court ruled in 1989 that they have the right to know the identity of their biological fathers, but in practice this is often impossible because many clinics delete their records after 10 years - the minimum period that medical records must be kept in Germany.
Gröhe's plan would see the database set up at the German Institute of Medical Documentation and Information (DIMDI) in Cologne, where donors' data would be kept until the child claims it, or for 110 years. The database would record the donor's name, date and place of birth, nationality, as well as the date of the child's birth and the identity of its mother.
"We've been calling for this register since our organization was founded in 2009," said Anne, co-founder and co-chair of the Spenderkinder Verein. "But we would of course have liked to see one or two additional regulations."
Anne argued that a few legal gaps had been left open: for one thing, the law will only apply to babies conceived after it has been enacted, meaning that it won't help the children born since 1970 to claim their rights.
"Donor-conceived children are often adults by the time they find out, and they are often told that there simply aren't any documents anymore," said Anne, who declined to give her surname. "The new law will regulate new cases, but old cases will be left hanging."
It would have been better, she added, if the DIMDI had been made responsible for collecting all the documents that were still available, a possibility that already exists on a voluntary basis in the UK.
In order to stop potential donors being discouraged, the draft bill will also guarantee that the donor-conceived children had no claims to child maintenance or inheritance. This was seen as important, since though there has never been such a case in Germany, the law could theoretically allow a donor father to be made the legal father in the absence of anyone else.
Anne welcomed this measure, but was concerned that the draft law stops short of forcing a child's "social" parents from telling them that they have another "genetic" father - there are no reliable figures on such cases, but estimates suggest that many "social" parents do not tell their children that have come from donor sperm.
"From a psychological point-of-view, it's well known that it's important that children find out where they're from as early as possible, to make possible a continuous development of their identity," she said. "There are a lot of unpleasant situations where children only find it out much later in life almost by accident, after they've confronted their social parents."
The parents of adopted children in Germany have already had this awkward decision taken out of their hands, since genetic parents are now recorded on all birth records in such cases (partly to guard against incest). Many international donor-conceived children's organizations would like this measure to be introduced for donor children too, not least because it usually leads parents to be more honest to their children about their biological origins.
"Usually people conceived from sperm donations aren't just interested in the identity data of their genetic father - they also want to know more about his background, especially his job and his personality," the Spenderkinder Verein said in a written response to the draft law.
The organization said that sperm donors should be given the option of filling in a questionnaire about themselves to add to their files, or even writing a letter to their potential children - similar to the "Goodwill Message" that fathers can leave at Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Some German clinics do offer such options, though only in recent years, meaning that the affected children are so far too young for practical experiences to be collected.