Wednesday, 1 September, 2010

Pair guilty over illegal internet sperm company

Two men have been found guilty of illegally making sperm available over the internet.

Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 43, from Reading, operated Fertility 1st which made sperm available from anonymous donors without a licence.

The men had denied three counts of procuring sperm illegally under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

They were granted conditional bail but the judge warned them she was considering a prison sentence and fine.

The men will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 24 September.

At the start of the trial the pair had argued that their company was simply an information site which acted as an introduction database, meaning they were not procuring or making sperm available.

But jurors heard a list showed 792 deliveries had been made by the company, which helped make the men an estimated income of £250,000 between October 2007 and November 2008.

It is the first time anyone has been prosecuted under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

Long waiting lists, shortages of sperm and restrictions on who can obtain treatment may be some of the reasons why women have opted to use unlicensed fertility clinics, also the impression that it might be easier to seek treatment online.

But anyone using fresh sperm from an unlicensed clinic is taking a potentially serious risk because they cannot be sure of the quality of the donation or whether it is free of sexually transmitted diseases.

At licensed clinics donors are given a blood test on the day of donation, repeated six months later because HIV can take this long to show up.

Sperm is frozen during this quarantine period and is only made available once the screening has been done and it has been checked for quality.

The men were reported to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) after one of their clients complained about their unprofessional standards.

Melissa Bhalla-Pentley was hoping to have a baby with her partner when she ordered the sperm through the Fertility 1st website set up by Gage and Woodforth.

Ms Bhalla-Pentley paid the men £380 in total and another £150 for courier delivery and the sperm donor's expenses.

However, she contacted the company when a copy of the donor's medical tests was sent to her with his name visible.

Under the HFEA's Act, the firm should have had a licence.

The law was brought in to ensure that both donors and women wanting to conceive had access to information and counselling, and to help protect against the risks of diseases including HIV.

The website run by Gage and Woodforth, which promised women a "life-changing opportunity towards motherhood", boasted of having more than 300 donors nationwide and a 37% success rate.

Clients were allowed to choose the ethnicity, height, hair colour, education and even hobbies of the sperm donor.

Following the verdict, Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said: "Getting access to fertility services can be difficult and there can be some very strong emotional pressures when trying to start a family.

"But unlicensed internet sites like these are exploiting women.

"This is a victory for those women."

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