Germany: Federal Court of Justice confirms donor offspring’s right to know their donor

In a landmark decision, The Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), Germany’s highest civil law court, ruled today that donor conceived children have a right to know the identity of their donor.

The judgement is in line with the decisions of regional courts on the rights of donor offspring and with former BGH decisions on the right to information about a person’s ancestry. Anonymous sperm donations were never allowed under German law, as there is a constitutionally protected right to information about a person’s ancestry. However, as there were no clear legal regulations of sperm donation, the practice of doctors developed quite differently. For a detailed analysis of the legal situation in Germany regarding donor conception, read the DOE country report on Germany.

In the current case, the claimants were two donor conceived sisters, born 1997 and 2002 respectively, whose parents sued on their behalf. The regional court of Hanover said that they had the right to know their donor’s identity, but only at the age of 16, applying the age limit provided in the Personal Status Law (Personenstandsgesetz) for adopted persons. This was refused by the Federal Court of Justice, who said that “a minimum age was not necessary” for disclosing a sperm donor’s identity.

Spenderkinder, the German organisation of donor offspring, is pleased that the judgement provides a final clarification that donor offspring have the right to know the identity of their sperm donor. This will make it easier for donor offspring to claim their rights in the future from doctors and clinics. We are also very pleased that the Federal Court of Justice refused the idea of an age limit, as young children may already have an interest in their biological father. However, the questions of data retention and to the basic information of being donor conceived at all (many parents do not tell their children) remains unresolved.

Therefore, Spenderkinder hopes that the decision will send a strong signal to the coalition government to fulfill their promise that they will pass explicit legislation protecting the right of donor offspring. This means not only passing an explicit claim to know the donor’s identity, but also to retain the donor data for an extensive amount of time by entering the donor’s name into the extended birth registry (Geburtenregister) or to at least provide a public registry where every person can demand information of they are donor conceived. Also, donors must be protected from maintenance and inheritance claims.