03 September 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 671
A woman has called for legal changes to prevent a man from donating his sperm without his wife's consent.
The un-named woman wrote to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) after finding that her husband had donated his sperm while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the birth of their son. She argued that sperm should be treated as a marital asset and should not be donated without her permission.
In her letter, she expressed her concerns that the sperm may already have been used to father children who upon reaching the age of 18 would have a legal right to trace their biological father.
If this were to happen, she wrote, 'there is then a huge emotional debt I would owe the child. I would not feel that I could push them away. It is something I would need to explain to our son'.
Fertility clinics are currently required by law to offer counselling to potential donors to discuss their donation before it takes place. There is no obligation for clinics to establish the opinion of the donor's wife, although some counsellors may suggest that men discuss the subject with their partner.
Once given, consent may still be withdrawn before the sperm is used.
In a comment in the Daily Mail, Peter Lloyd, a men's rights activist, has described the idea that a wife's consent be required for sperm donation as 'sexist and absurd'.
But Dr Gulam Bahadur, a former HFEA member and specialist in men's health at Homerton University Hospital in London said: 'At the moment the person from whose body the sperm comes has total say over its use, but if this use impacts on the wife's family life, the situation is not cut and dried'.
The Daily Mail reports the woman has contacted Diane Blood, who won a legal battle in 1997 to use her late husband's sperm to conceive. Mrs Blood told the newspaper: 'There needs to be a public discussion about the matter. When fighting my own case I quoted the marriage vows which say "All that I am is yours"'.
But speaking on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour, Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield and chairman of the British Fertility Society, explained the UK courts have already declined to rule that sperm can be treated as an asset.
'In all of the cases where a property claim has been brought to court, the court has ruled that you cannot class sperm as an "asset", in the same way as you might be able to classify a car, or a house, or a painting', he said.
Dr Anna Smajdor, lecturer in biomedical ethics at University of East Anglia, also speaking on the programme, said it was unlikely the law would be changed. She said there was no justification for treating sperm, under current divorce laws, as a marital asset that would require the spouse to show the court they had made some contribution to that marital asset.
'It is not enough that you have some property or some goods', she explained. 'You have to show that you have actually helped to build up those goods'.
'The wife would have to show legally that her husband couldn't have produced that sperm without her input'.