The HFEA and its role

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was set up in 1991 and comprises members (the majority of whom are clinicians, researchers or other fertility/embryology professionals) and a lay chair.   The Authority oversees a staff which licenses and inspects fertility clinics in the UK.

In the UK, you need a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to:

  • Provide medical treatment involving human embryos, eggs or sperm
  • Create human embryos (or conduct testing or research on them)
  • Store human eggs, sperm or embryos
  • Collect human eggs or sperm for donation

Through the licensing system, the HFEA conducts inspections of clinics and researchers, and enforces UK and EU law and a Code of Practice which applies additional policies and restrictions.  The HFEA also advises the government on new developments in fertility and embryology, and keeps the Register of Information.

The HFEA Register of Information
The Register of Information contains details of all fertility treatments carried out in the UK since 1 August 1991. If you are having (or have had) fertility treatment in a licensed clinic in the UK, the Register records details about you, your treatment, any donor that you have used and any child born if your treatment is successful. 

Information on the Register of Information is protected by strict confidentiality laws which go beyond normal medical confidentiality and make it a criminal offence for information to be disclosed, except in very particular circumstances.  Access to information on the Register is permitted for those involved in donor conception within a clearly defined framework (find out more about information rights for UK donor conception).

heart on a wooden door

The welfare of the child assessment

The law imposes a duty on fertility clinics that before offering treatment to anyone, to 'consider the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for supportive parenting) and of any other child affected by the birth'.  The law used to require clinics to consider a child's 'need for a father' before offering treatment.  This requirement (which made it possible for clinics to deny treatment to single women and those in same-sex relationships) was abolished in 2009, but not without controversy.  

The HFEA Code of Practice gives guidance to fertility clinics on what assessing the welfare of the child means; generally speaking there is a presumption in favour of treatment unless there is real evidence of potential risk to the prospective child. Fertility clinics must also adhere to equality legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability etc.

Counselling and information
The law requires counselling to be offered to patients and donors (although uptake is not mandatory) and 'proper information' to be given, before fertility treatment is provided.


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