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New approaches to recruiting sperm and egg donors

26 March 2007
Appeared in BioNews 400

An advertising campaign launched by the UK's National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) has attracted complaints from potential parents and campaigners, who have labelled it tacky. The NGDT created the 'Give A Toss' campaign in response to declining sperm donations. The NGDT needs 500 sperm donors annually in order to keep supplies topped up, but recruited only 160 donors in 2005 - a supply problem that some have claimed is due to changes in the law, which mean donors can no longer remain anonymous.

The campaign operates online from the website and includes a viral video, interactive video characters, and a 'Toss-O-Meter' game, inviting visitors to 'test their wrist action'. Pip Morris, Donor Recruitment Manager at the NGDT said, 'UK legislation is creating huge barriers for couples relying on egg and sperm donations. Raising awareness of the problem is a vital component in overcoming this'.

However, some have complained the campaign is offensive and tacky, criticising the use of female models wearing 'we want your sperm' t-shirts and the wrist-action improving virtual game. Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network (DCN) complained that the campaign portrayed sperm donors as irresponsible. She said that the DCN had worked hard for the law to lift donor anonymity, and to promote the image of donors as fathers or men in relationships, who empathised with couples facing fertility problems. Ms Montuschi said, 'many of our supporters find it offensive and some have been quite upset'.

Professor Eric Blyth of the Project Group on Assisted Reproduction of the British Association of Social Workers also objected to the campaign. He argued that 'a serious sperm donor recruitment campaign is not the place to employ adolescent humour to disparage sperm donation'.

The NGDT have defended their campaign. Laura Witjens, chair of the trust, said that they realised it had been a high risk strategy, but that the aim of the campaign was to get people interested. Ms Witjens reported '46 registrations of people we would class as "high quality" donors since it began on Monday. That would normally take us three weeks'.

Meanwhile, a UK couple have managed to recruit potential egg donors using London buses. Linda Weeks and her husband Richard have advertised on more than 50 buses, appealing to women aged 36 and under to donate their eggs. After spending more than £2,000 on the campaign the couple have received more than 60 offers of egg donation. Mrs Weeks said that she was delighted at the response they had received. The couple have spent thousands of pounds on IVF during 14 years of unsuccessful treatments. The London clinic where they have been receiving treatment can no longer treat Mrs Weeks, 54, once she reaches the age of 55.

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