Children conceived with donated sperm could be given the right to trace their biological fathers if sweeping changes in the law go ahead.
Currently donors remain anonymous and the 1,100 children born every year in the UK as a result of insemination from sperm banks will grow up never knowing about their biological fathers.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has apparently been told by experts that the need for children to know their genetic background and true identity should outweigh donors’ privacy rights.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said an announcement on the issue would be taken by ministers “shortly”.
The Observer reports that this announcement will say children should be able to trace the identity of sperm donors.
Those who favour change argue that children born as a result of donor insemination can be psychologically damaged by discovering in later life that they will never know their biological father.
Scientific advances could also increase the pressure for change.
As researchers discover more genetic factors in diseases, future generations are likely to need to know their true background.
One possibility is that the birth certificates of children born through donor insemination may be changed, so that the role of the donor is acknowledged.
However there are concerns that reform could discourage donors.
Dr Mohammed Taranissi, from the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre in London, told The Observer: “I think you are going to have great problems with donors coming forward unless their anonymity is preserved.”
A BBC survey last year of 82 donors at three sperm banks found the majority would not continue to donate if they could not remain anonymous.
In Sweden, where the law has been changed and donors are known, many infertile couples travel to Denmark, where donors are still anonymous, for treatment.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.