The Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine (GCRM) has begun accepting sperm donation as 'payment in kind' for fertility treatment, in a pioneering new approach aimed at combating severe sperm shortages in Scotland.
It is thought that nationwide shortages were partly triggered by a change in the UK law, which permits offspring to find out the name of their donor father.
Gemma Wilkie, a spokeswoman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), confirmed that the controversial move is permissible. 'You cannot be paid. You cannot be given money, but clinics are allowed to provide a compensation in the form of a reduced cost of treatment', she said.
A similar practice, known as egg-sharing, in which women undergoing fertility treatment donate some of their eggs to women who cannot produce their own, has already been trialled successfully. Here, it is the recipient who pays some of the donor's costs, compared to the proposed sperm-sharing system for which the GCRM will cover the full cost.
Around two per cent of adult men are affected by fertility problems, which could result from low sperm count, abnormally shaped sperm or poor sperm motility. But with the current sperm shortages, the GCRM says that they are having to pay extortionate prices to buy sperm from Manchester and have been forced to turn people away in times of shortage.
Professor Richard Fleming, the centre director, is hopeful the new approach will help. 'If we could have our own donors it would be a lot cheaper for patients. Instead of £2000 we would probably be taking about £200', he told the Herald, whilst accepting that the loss of anonymity was a deterrent. 'The donors themselves have to consider the concept that perhaps in 20 years time when they might have their own family, someone could suddenly come and say we are related', he added.