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UK sperm bank rejects donors with ADHD and dyslexia

11 January 2016

By Dr Rosie Gilchrist

Appeared in BioNews 834

Britain's largest sperm bank has been turning away potential donors who have dyslexia.

The London Sperm Bank issued leaflets listing conditions that it screens for to 'minimise the risk of transmitting common genetic diseases or malformations to any children born'. Under the heading 'neurological diseases', the list includes conditions such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Around ten percent of the population have dyslexia, which affects the ability to learn to read and spell, but there is debate over whether the condition should be termed a 'disability'. Some people consider dyslexia an advantage, being linked to creative abilities and logical thinking.

Commenting on the inclusion of dyslexia in the list of conditions sperm donors are screened for, Steve O'Brien, chair of the Dyslexia Foundation, said: 'This is eugenics. It's trying to say that dyslexics shouldn't be in society. By suggesting you can't donate sperm because you're dyslexic will knock people's confidence. This kind of stuff is what makes people shy away from admitting they have dyslexia and asking for help.'

The Guardian reports that some potential donors were informed that is was the policy of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to ban donors with dyslexia, but the HFEA has rejected this and has launched an enquiry into the sperm bank after being alerted to its practices by the newspaper.

In a statement, it said: 'The HFEA has never required or endorsed prohibiting people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD and other disorders from becoming sperm donors.'

'The clinic's HFEA inspector is clarifying our requirements for selecting donors with the centre, and is reviewing all the exemptions cited in the centre's materials, to ensure that all future donors are treated fairly and in accordance with the law.'

Venessa Smith, quality manager at the JD Healthcare Group, which runs the London Sperm Bank, said the organisation has now withdrawn its leaflet and is reviewing its policies.

'We definitely don't work in eugenics,' Smith said. 'When we recruit a donor, what we are looking for is good sperm that is going to freeze well and will produce a pregnancy afterwards. We are looking for someone who is medically clear of infectious diseases and genetic issues that may possibly be passed on to any resulting child.

'But we are also looking for a guy who is coming forward for the right reasons, who understands the lifelong commitment to this.'

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