Professor Eric Blyth, speaking at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) conference in Montreal this week, presented an analysis of a UK Department of Health survey of sperm and egg donors, which shows that loss of donor anonymity could potentially halve the number of people donating. In April, a new law came into force in Britain, which gives children born from eggs or sperm donated after 1 April 2005 the right to trace their genetic parents.
The survey of sperm and egg donors showed that only half would definitely continue to donate if they lost their right to anonymity. Of the 133 respondents, 20 sperm donors, 38 egg donors and 7 egg share donors indicated they would still donate if anonymity were removed. Thirty-nine per cent (52) said they would not donate and 12 per cent (16) were 'unsure' whether they would donate. 'Their concerns ranged from worries about financial responsibility, their emotional response and fears of personal involvement', reported Professor Blyth, of Huddersfield University.
Professor Blyth said that the survey - and other recent studies - provides no information about the likely attitudes of potential donors who would not participate in an anonymous donation programme in the first place. He added that there has been an significant increase in enquiries to the UK's National Gamete Donation Trust from potential donors since the public awareness campaign launched at the beginning of 2005, but that it was too early to see how this would translate into actual donor recruitment. 'I think everyone accepts donation rates are going to go down initially, but no one knows by how much, but that these are likely to increase subsequently', he said after his presentation.
The head of the British Fertility Society, Richard Kennedy, said, 'We realise that there is a strong case for children to know their genetic parents but the downside of that has led to a major reduction in the availability of donors'. Professor Ian Craft, Director of the London Fertility Centre, a private fertility clinic, said 'In Britain donors have dried up...and we are seeing more reproductive tourism'.
In another study, Canadian researchers have also 'raised the spectre of reproductive tourism', as a consequence of governments tightening the rules on egg and sperm donation. They told the ASRM meeting that the US might become a prime destination for Canadians seeking donor insemination (DI), as a recently-passed Canadian law forbids payment of all but 'reasonable expenses' to donors, although it - for the time being - allows importation of sperm from the US that was paid for.
Dr Arthur Leader, from Ottawa University's fertility centre, said that when the final details of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act are worked out, the law might prevent such importation, which might 'effectively shut down' DI in Canada, as up to 90 per cent of donor sperm used in Canada comes from the US. He went on to tell the conference that only three sperm banks currently operate in Canada, compared to about 40 a few years ago. 'People will have to go to the US for artificial insemination', he said, adding: 'It will be reproductive tourism'. Dr Yifang Wang added that the number of Canadian clinics performing donor insemination has risen, from 62 in 2002 to 99 in 2004. But, he said, 'more clinics are doing insemination, but there's more reliance on US sperm'.