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Consent to treatment

Before treatment can take place, you are required by law to give your informed consent to ensure your sperm, eggs, embryos and personal information are used in a way that you’re happy with. Find out more about why giving consent is so important and the different types of consent.

Why is consent to treatment so important?

Quite simply, because it has serious implications for how your embryos, eggs or sperm are used and, in some cases, who is considered to be a legal parent of your child.

Mistakes with consent to treatment have, for example, led to embryos, eggs or sperm being destroyed because proper consent to storage wasn’t given.

If you’re having treatment with donated sperm or embryos and you’re not married or in a civil partnership with your partner, giving consent to who will be your child’s legal parent  is vital. Problems with legal parenthood consent have led to couples having to go to court after their child is born so that legal parenthood can be declared.

It is an essential part of your treatment and, together with your clinic, you should make sure you fully understand all the issues before giving your consent.

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What are the different consent forms I might be asked to sign?

Some of the areas where you may need to give consent include:

  • how long to store your eggs, sperm or embryos
  • the type of treatment you have, including donation
  • who will be the legal parent of a child born if you are using donated eggs, sperm or embryos and you're not married or in a civil partnership with your partner
  • what will happen to your eggs, sperm or embryos if you or your partner die
  • how your personal information can be used.

Your clinic has a responsibility to ensure you completely understand your treatment and the implications of your decisions. They should also offer you counselling before you give your consent.

Consent to fertility treatment and storage of your sperm, eggs and/or embryos

You’ll need to consent to your eggs, embryos or sperm being used for your own treatment or the treatment of others. If you freeze them, you’ll also need to make clear how long they should be frozen for and the conditions under which they can be used in the future.

It’s important that before you complete and sign any forms, your clinic has clearly explained to you what your treatment involves and that you are entitled to receive counselling. 

Consent to your clinic sharing your information

Unless it’s a medical emergency, your clinic is not allowed to tell your GP or anyone else about your treatment unless they have your consent to do so. Most patients are happy for their medical history to be discussed with their GP or other healthcare professionals to ensure they get the best possible medical care.

Clinics also need your permission to allow auditors and finance staff to see your records. If you’re having NHS funded treatment, the clinic will also need your permission to discuss details of your treatment and whether it was successful with the funding providers.

By law, some of your information must be shared with us as we’re required to hold details of all the fertility treatments carried out by licensed clinics in the UK. You don’t need to give your consent to this.

Find out more about how we manage your data

Scientist using equipment

Consent to us sharing information for research

Clinics collect patient information, some of which is held securely by us. We’re able to use this data to study trends in fertility treatment, which helps to inform clinics, researchers and the wider public.

Occasionally, researchers in fertility ask us for patient identifying data to help with their research projects but we can only provide that data if you’ve consented for us to do so.

Research using fertility data can help to make treatment safer and more effective. Only research projects that meet strict confidentiality guidelines can use patient identifying data.

Find out more about how we manage your data

How long can I store my eggs, sperm or embryos for use in future treatment?

You can normally only store your eggs, sperm or embryos for up to 10 years. If you have premature infertility or are going to be having medical treatment which could affect your fertility, you may be able to store for up to 55 years. Your clinic should discuss this option with you.

Once your storage period runs out your eggs, sperm or embryos will be discarded (unless you’ve decided to donate them to someone else’s treatmentresearch or training), so it’s really important you keep your clinic informed of any change to your contact details so they can let you know when your storage is due to expire.

If you consented to storage for a shorter period of time, you can extend your storage period by completing a new consent form. You don’t have to match the length of storage to any contract for paying for the storage (whether you, or the NHS, is paying). However, if you don’t pay for storage as agreed, the clinic is within its right to discard you eggs, sperm or embryos as long as they warn you about this.

Making sure your partner is legally recognised as your child’s parent

If you’re having treatment with donated sperm or embryos and you’re not married or in a civil partnership, both you and your partner will need to give written consent to parenthood to ensure that your partner is recognised as your  child’s legal parent. You and your partner must give this consent before embryo transfer or insemination.

If you don’t give consent, or there’s an error in the forms, there’s a risk that your partner won’t be recognised as the child’s legal parent. Common errors include incorrectly writing the date you competed the form in the box that is meant for your date of birth and not signing all the sections of the form that require your signature. You should double check the form before giving it back to your clinic. If you are unsure of anything, you should speak to your clinic.

Find out more about becoming legal parents

Can I withdraw my consent to treatment?

Yes you can, providing your eggs, sperm and embryos haven’t already been used in treatment. Even if you’ve already created an embryo, you can withdraw your consent at any point up until it’s transferred to the womb.

Your partner or donor can also change or withdraw their consent at any time until their eggs, sperm or embryos have been used in treatment. If that happens, you wouldn’t be able to continue with treatment, even if the embryos have been jointly created with your eggs or sperm.  

What if I want my eggs, sperm or embryos to be used after my death?

If you want your eggs, sperm or embryos to be used after death, you’ll need to have given all the appropriate consents for this. You should speak to your clinic as this can be quite a complicated area. For example, if you’re a man and your wife passes away, you’ll need to find a surrogate to carry your baby and your wife will need to have previously consented to this. If you don’t have the right consents then your eggs, sperm or embryos will need to be discarded.

What happens if my partner and I split up?

If you split up from your partner before the embryo(s) is/are transferred or before insemination, it’s vitally important that you both inform your clinic of your separation and whether you wish to change or withdraw the consent that you previously provided. If either of you wishes to change or withdraw your consent, you will need to do this by completing one of our consent forms – your clinic will provide you with the appropriate form.

If one person wants to use the embryos and the other person doesn’t, speak to your clinic about whether you may be able to rely on the one year ‘cooling off period’. The cooling off period enables the clinic to continue storing your sperm, eggs or embryos even though one of you has withdrawn consent while you think through all the issues and come to a final decision. Your clinic should support you both in reaching a resolution.

By law, the embryos can only be used if both parties have given their consent. Consent can be withdrawn at any point up until the embryo is transferred to the womb. If one partner withdraws consent, your clinic must take appropriate steps to inform the other partner that consent has been withdrawn.

If you were having treatment with donated sperm or embryos and you have split up from your partner but are still married/in a civil partnership with them, your partner would still be considered the legal parent of any child born unless you could demonstrate they did not consent to your treatment. There is a HFEA form that you can complete to evidence this (called the LC form-Stating your spouse or civil partner’s lack of consent), but it will not necessarily guarantee that your spouse or civil partner will not be the legal parent. This is a complex area and we advise that you get legal advice and talk this through with your clinic.

If you were having treatment with donated sperm or embryos and you:

  • have split up from your partner, and
  • you were not married to, or in civil partnership with, them

your clinic will need to establish whether:

  • you still consent to your ex-partner being the legal parent of any child born or if you wish to withdraw your consent and carry on treatment as a single parent or with another partner
  • your partner still consents to being the legal parent of any child born, or if they wish to withdraw their consent to being the legal parent.

Who can I talk to if I have questions about consent?

Your clinic should give you all the consent forms relevant to your situation and should help you to complete them. Part of this process is giving you clear information about your treatment and offering you the chance to have professional counselling. If you have any questions about consent, you should speak to your clinic.

Review date: 3 November 2023