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Freeze sperm at 18, urges bioethicist

29 June 2015

By Ari Haque

Appeared in BioNews 808

A UK bioethicist has argued that 18-year-old men should consider freezing their sperm to reduce the risk of their children having genetic disorders.

Dr Kevin Smith, from Abertay University in Dundee believes that sperm-banking should be incentivised and supported by the state.

While men are generally able to conceive at an older age than women, Dr Smith is of the view that freezing should be considered for sperm to avoid the risk of 'gradually reducing human fitness in the long term'.

There has been a trend among both men and women to have children later in life and the average age of fatherhood in England and Wales has increased to 33, from 31 in the early 1990s. As men age, sperm become more prone to errors, which has been linked to an increased risk of conditions such as autism and schizophrenia.

Writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Dr Smith suggests, 'If demographic trends towards later fatherhood continue, this will likely lead to more children suffering from genetic disorders.'

Dr Smith argues that even small increases in the risk of disease could have a significant effect when scaled up across a whole nation and that the question of paternal age is of 'ethical importance'. In order to avoid these risks, he encourages the idea of 'state-supported universal sperm-banking', which he thinks would be more effective than encouraging men to become fathers younger.

Dr Smith suggests that 18 is the ideal age for men to freeze their sperm. He said there was no fixed age when someone could become an 'older dad' but that people in their 40s might want to use sperm frozen when they were younger.

However, the British Fertility Society (BFS) has called such a move 'a very artificial approach to procreation'.

Professor Adam Balen, chair of the BFS said, 'Not only does it provide a very artificial approach to procreation, but also a false sense of security as the technology does not guarantee a baby.'

Professor Balen suggests that, instead, a societal shift and extra support for young couples to work and have children earlier is required. Speaking to BBC News, he suggested we should look to the example of Scandinavian countries in terms of policies and attitudes towards parenthood issues, including paternity leave.

Sheena Lewis, chair of the British Andrology Society, agrees: 'We need to get the message across that it's really a much better idea for men as well as women to have their children in their 20s and 30s.'

BBC News | 25 June 2015
The Guardian | 25 June 2015
Journal of Medical Ethics | 02 June 2015
The Washington Post | 26 June 2015
Abertay University (press release) | 25 June 2015


03 July 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The success of IVF in women under the age of 40 may be affected by the age of their male partners, suggests a US study...
17 August 2015 - by Meghna Kataria 
Using frozen donated eggs over fresh ones for IVF hampers the odds of a successful live birth, a study has found...
03 August 2015 - by Ruth Retassie 
Researchers have developed a mathematical model for determining what age women should start trying to conceive...
13 July 2015 - by Dr Sarah Martins da Silva 
Kevin Smith should be applauded for raising awareness of men's biological clocks, but his proposal to 'genetically improve' the human population through sperm banking seems preposterous...
06 July 2015 - by Professor Allan Pacey 
When I was first telephoned by a journalist to ask what I thought about the proposal that the NHS should pay for the sperm banking of every 18-year-old male in order to guard against reproductive ageing, I said just one word: 'Crackers!'...

18 May 2015 - by Dr Kamal Ahuja 
For the first time, a British sperm bank has sufficient stocks and donors to begin supplying clinics registered by the HFEA. The move marks a shift in the dynamics of UK sperm donation and would suggest that the perception of any shortage of donor sperm in Britain is no longer true...
20 April 2015 - by Meghna Kataria 
A study has found a link between DNA methylation levels in sperm and an increased risk of autism in children, indicating that epigenetic changes could explain why the disorder appears to run in families....
13 April 2015 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
A recent study suggests that exposure to pesticide residue through diet may affect sperm quality...
02 March 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
You may have come across the story. 'Teenagers more likely to pass on genetic mutations to children,' reported The Independent. But was there research showing anything of the sort? The simple answer is no...
23 February 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have found that the rate of mutation in the sperm cells of teenagers is much higher than previously thought...

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