Two men prosecuted for illegally providing fresh sperm over the Internet have been convicted at Southwark Crown Court. Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 43, operated a website called Fertility 1st through which fertility patients could select from a database of sperm donors and order 'fresh' sperm to be directly delivered, for a fee, to their door.
In what is believed to be the first conviction of this kind under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 as amended, both men were found guilty of procuring and distributing sperm without a licence, as required by law. The court heard how the pair made up to £250,000 from their activities, which were brought to light after one of their customers failed to become pregnant using the sperm she and her partner had ordered from the website.
Ms Melissa Bhalla-Pentley allegedly paid over £400 for the service, which included reimbursement of the sperm donor's expenses. After noticing the sperm donor's name was visible on documents sent to her, she reportedly contacted the company and then the police when her request for a refund was refused.
Since April 2007, it has been unlawful to 'procure, test or distribute' human eggs or sperm for human use without a licence from the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The law was brought in partly to reduce the risks associated with using fresh sperm which, if not properly tested, could carry a risk of disease including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Prior to the Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations, insemination using 'fresh sperm' was unregulated.
Speaking from the HFEA, Peter Thompson said when sperm is processed by unregulated firms, it is not possible to ensure it is safe for human use. Regulated clinics freeze and store sperm for six months before use where it is subjected to testing for HIV and other diseases.
Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, welcomed the decision saying unlicensed Internet companies were 'exploiting women'. 'Getting access to fertility services can be difficult and there can be some very strong emotional pressures when trying to start a family', she said, adding, 'This is a victory for those women'.
The men have been granted bail before receiving sentence at Southwark Crown Court on 12 October where they face a prison sentence or a fine, or both.