Monday, 8 February, 2010

Donor shortage 'driving women to risky online sperm banks'

Websites have sprung up offering fresh sperm delivered to your door for DIY insemination by UK women, according to an article in The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist (TOG). UK sperm donor shortages are blamed for creating a market for these 'e-semination' services, which have unclear legal status and are not covered by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulations.

The newspaper claims that the websites, which have appeared since 2004, can charge as little as £400 per sample. 'The online market has sprung up because, in clinics, there isn't enough sperm to go around and some business men have seen this as an opportunity', article author Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at Sheffield Medical School told BioNews.

The services circumvent regulations by claiming they merely link patients and donors and do not deal directly with sperm, The Telegraph newspaper reports.

Unlike sperm from fertility clinics, fresh sperm is not frozen and quarantined before testing for bacterial and viral infection. 'These fresh sperm delivery services just fill me with horror', Allan Pacey told The Telegraph, adding: 'There is no way on earth that they can guarantee they are infection free when they do not quarantine sperm at all'.

E-semination services also place donors at risk of being pursued for child support payments, Dr Pacey told BioNews. Under UK law, they are the father of any children born, unlike sperm donors officially registered with a fertility clinic. 'You may have men donating, thinking they're doing good, but they're not immune in law', he says. 'Are the men in full knowledge of what they're getting themselves into? They're probably not'.

A donor to an e-semination service attended an event organised by the charity that publishes BioNews, the Progress Educational Trust, Dr Pacey said. 'He was horrified to learn he was father of the children'. Dr Pacey does not know how many women are using the services. Anecdotal evidence suggests more and more UK patients are also going overseas for sperm-assisted conception, the TOG article says. Research into whether this is to overcome the UK's sperm shortage is underway.

Susan Seenan, from Infertility Network UK, told The Telegraph: 'The desire to have a baby can be such an overwhelming and deep-rooted desire that they may go to lengths that other people might not understand'. She added: 'Although many patients do receive a high standard care abroad, this is not ideal and the rules and regulations in other countries can be totally different from that in the UK. We are also concerned that others may be purchasing fresh sperm online for DIY insemination'.

Dr Pacey says he was commissioned to write his article two years ago. It was intended as an ethically-focused, educational overview of the UK's sperm donation situation and mainly gives a historical account. E-semination services are mentioned in a few lines in the full article.

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