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Can posthumous donation tackle the UK's sperm shortage?

27 January 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1032

Men should be permitted to donate their sperm after death in the same way they can donate organs, according to a new paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

In the UK, demand for donor sperm exceeds supply. Dr Nathan Hodson from the University of Leicester and Dr Joshua Parker from Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, proposed allowing men to include sperm in their posthumous donation wishes, concluding that posthumous sperm donation is of a similar nature to organ donation, therefore, it could be a 'morally permissible' way to increase sperm stocks:

'Gamete donation after death parallels kidney donation by offering the same benefits as donation in life with fewer drawbacks, thereby both incentivising men to donate and providing greater opportunity to fulfil some of their reproductive and altruistic desires' they said in their paper. 

Drs Hodson and Parker point out that corneas are already transplanted from deceased donors, so donation is not limited to life-threatening conditions:
'If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in 'life-enhancing transplants' for diseases, we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility, which may or may not also be considered a disease.'

The authors quote HFEA figures showing that treatment cycles with donor sperm are increasing, and the number of newly register sperm donors is insufficient to meet the demand. As such, the UK imports over 7000 sperm samples annually, predominantly from Denmark and the US. 

Evidence suggests that sperm collected within 48 hours after death can result in healthy children. Drs Hodson and Parker hope that encouraging men to donate sperm posthumously would increase the availability of donor sperm by sidestepping some of the barriers to becoming sperm donors, such as loss of anonymity and the need to discuss intimate personal information. 

'If people knew more about the process and were able to make more informed decisions about whether to become a sperm donor, I think we'd see a lot more people opting into doing so,' Jeffrey Ingold, a former sperm donor, told the BBC. 'I also think that having this kind of process might go some way in challenging the stigma or preconceived ideas society has about sperm donation.'

However, the proposal caused concern about the impact on donor-conceived people, who in the UK are entitled to find out the identity of their donor from the age of 18.

Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews) told CNN: 

'If we allow sperm donation after death, that opportunity would be closed to donor-conceived people. What do donor-conceived individuals think the impact would be of never being able to meet their donor?' 

Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, agreed: 'I'd much rather that we invested our energy in trying to recruit younger, healthy, willing donors who stand a good chance of being alive when the donor-conceived person starts to become curious about them'.

Men should be allowed to donate sperm after death, study says
CNN |  22 January 2020
Posthumous sperm donation should be allowed, say UK experts
Reuters |  21 January 2020
Sperm could be harvested from dead men to ease donation crisis, say British doctors
The Telegraph |  20 January 2020
Sperm donations from dead men should be allowed, study says
BBC |  21 January 2020
The ethical case for non-directed postmortem sperm donation
Journal of Medical Ethics |  20 January 2020
30 November 2020 - by Tsvetana Stoilova 
A woman in Canada has been denied her appeal to use her dead husband's sperm, on the grounds that he did not provide formal written consent...
24 February 2020 - by Rachel Siden 
A British court is considering a claim to release a deceased patient's fertility clinic records to their heirs...
10 February 2020 - by Vince Londini 
Recent media coverage of recommendations regarding non-directed posthumous sperm donation highlights the ready ease with which donor-conceived people are marginalised in policy decisions about donor conception...
6 January 2020 - by Dr Valerie Shaikly 
The third session of the Progress Educational Trust (PET) 2019 annual conference, 'Beyond Regulation: Shining a Light on Fertility Treatment', was chaired by Alastair McLellan, the editor of the Health Service Journal...
16 December 2019 - by Sophia McCully 
The subject of this year's Progress Educational Trust annual conference was 'a realistic look at assisted reproduction'...
23 September 2019 - by Jen Willows 
A cluster of 12 children conceived from the same sperm donor all have autism spectrum disorders, prompting questions about the oversight of US sperm banks...
Comment ( - 28/01/2020)
Once again, the people created with the help of donor sperm are left out of the equation.  As those of us who care about the emotional health and well-being of DC people move towards known donors as being the only acceptable form of gamete donation, so called medical ethicists try to 'fix' the problem of sperm shortage by advocating allowing it to be carried out after death.  Do they not realise that sperm is completely different to kidneys, corneas or any other body part that is donated.  These help to sustain or revive life in a very sick person.  Sperm on the other hand helps CREATE real living human beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.  I cannot imagine what it would feel like to learn that you were made from the sperm of a dead person.  As a parent, I cannot imagine explaining to my child that the sperm they were made from came from a corpse.  Posthumous donation is an appalling idea and it is shocking that at this time in the 21st Century that anyone could suggest something so crass and disregarding of the feelings of the people to be conceived this way.
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