Tokyo Clinic Helps IVF Offspring Make Contact with Sperm Donors

A baby conceived through in vitro fertilization with sperm from a donor who consented to share his contact details with offspring was born earlier this month, marking the first such recognized case in Japan.

Legislation regarding the rights of children born via donated sperm to know anything about their biological fathers is lacking in Japan. The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology requires that sperm donors remain anonymous and forbids in vitro fertilization using donated sperm.

However, some people conceived through IVF with donated sperm argue they have a right to know their origins.

Upon turning 18, the child born earlier this month will be able to contact the donor if they wish to do so under the terms of a legal agreement signed by the donor.

The baby was born to a couple in their 30s, according to a representative of Tokyo-based Hara Medical Clinic, which carried out the procedure.

The couple had failed to conceive after more than 30 attempts of artificial insemination, which tends to have a lower success rate. In artificial insemination, sperm is injected into the uterus, where it fertilizes the eggs naturally. In IVF treatment, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory.

The clinic created its own guidelines due to the lack of sufficient regulation in Japan. In September 2022, it began offering fertility treatment to couples if the male partner has no viable sperm in his ejaculate — a condition known as azoospermia — among other issues.

Under the clinic’s guidelines, when a woman becomes pregnant with donated sperm, the couple is supplied with information on the donor’s height, weight, blood type, occupation and health. The clinic will not accept sperm donation unless the donor agree to be contacted by offspring in writing, by phone or in person, if they request it after they turn 18.

A nonpartisan political group is aiming to submit a bill relating to assisted reproductive technology to an extraordinary Diet session this autumn but has yet to reach a consensus regarding whether children born via donated sperm have a right to contact donors.

The group has long embraced the view that sperm donors must remain anonymous. Under a skeleton plan for the bill compiled in March 2022, donors’ information would not be disclosed without consent, even if offspring were to request such data later in life. The bill has yet to be finalized.

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Japan ratified in 1994, states that children shall have “as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”

In Japan, IVF is covered by health insurance, and nearly 70,000 children are born through the fertility treatment every year.

As it is difficult for couples who wish to have children through sperm donation under the current situation, there have been calls for relevant legislation to be established as soon as possible.