31 July 2006
ByAppeared in BioNews 369
Thousands of women seeking fertility treatment face remaining childless because of an acute shortage of sperm donors in Britain, according to a report published yesterday in the Independent. In Scotland, there is now only one active sperm donor, while only one man donates sperm to the whole of Oxfordshire. Fertility clinics are turning away couples seeking treatment because they do not have enough sperm samples for insemination. Sperm banks are so empty that couples are having to wait for up to five years for a suitable sperm match.
Fertility clinics are blaming the crisis on the Government's decision to change the law. Children of people who donated sperm after April 2005 are now legally entitled to track down their biological fathers once they turn 18. This abolition of anonymity has also led to tens of thousands of vials of healthy sperm being destroyed because the donors have not agreed to be identified.
In 2000, 325 sperm donors were newly registered with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) but in the first six months of 2005, only 99 men were registered. Across the UK as few as 10 new donors are found each month, down from up to 32 a month before the legal change.
Clare Brown, chair of Infertility Network UK, said the law change had made a huge difference to the number of men volunteering. She has called for an urgent recruitment drive by the Department of Health to persuade men to come forward and replenish the country's sperm banks. 'Unless we do something about it, things will get worse. Men are obviously not donating anymore and we need to raise awareness,' she said. She added: 'It's difficult to say 100 per cent that the removal of anonymity is or isn't the reason but this is what everybody was concerned would happen'.
Other campaigners blame a more general lack of awareness for the fall in numbers: 'We need a big recruitment campaign but also clinics need to be aware of how to recruit properly', said Laura Witjens, chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust. She said that currently a lot of clinics have closed their doors and are simply not recruiting.
The Department for Health has insisted that it is right for donor conceived children to know their biological history and said the charities Barnardos and the Children's Society supported the law. A spokesperson said they did not intend to change the law, and that clinics should learn from those with successful recruitment campaigns.
The new rules also state that British clinics can no longer import anonymous sperm from abroad. This has led to more couples going overseas for treatment, or buying sperm on the internet.