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Donor crisis spurs trend of public awareness campaigns

12 November 2007
Appeared in BioNews 433

Due to an unprecedented national shortage in sperm and egg donors, childless couples in the Northeast of Scotland at the Aberdeen Fertility Clinic made a public appeal last week for donors. Presently in the area, 29 couples waiting for an egg donor are faced with an average two-year wait and 17 couples awaiting sperm donations have a nine-month wait. Infertility Network UK (Scotland) applauded the campaign which led 30 respondents to contact the Aberdeen clinic and earnestly express interest in helping and who each will be given information packs, invited for discussion and counselled.

Egg donation requires a more invasive procedure and recruiting altruistic donors has always been difficult but many fertility experts attribute the decline in sperm donors to new legislation that ended donor anonymity in 2005. Recipient couples of donated gametes are provided with non-identifying information such as eye colour and medical history and they remain anonymous to donors, but the 2005 regulations now also allow the donor offspring to seek the names of their donor parent/s by request at eighteen or upon marriage.

Dr Mark Hamilton, lead consultant at the Aberdeen Fertility Clinic, explained that previously the clinic had not had a waiting list for sperm donations but in the past two years since the 2005 regulations, only two men came forward as volunteer donors for the area including Grampian, the Highlands and the Orkney and Shetland Isles. Despite the annual estimated 500 couples in Grampian requiring fertility assistance, the difficulty, according to Dr. Hamilton, is meeting the demand of the fraction requiring donors - approximately 20 annual referrals for egg donation and 45 for sperm donation.

The dwindling donor numbers are part of a ten-year national shortage. As numbers decline, couples desperate for children but who require donated gametes are increasingly resorting to publicising their plight in order to circumvent waiting lists, especially if they near the clinic-imposed age limits for fertility treatment. A Scottish couple, who spoke publicly at Aberdeen, jumped the list using an anonymous televised interview to recruit. One UK couple spent over £2,000 recruiting potential egg donors by advertising on London buses. Clinics have also joined the efforts: although the law prohibits financial incentives for gamete/sperm donation, the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine launched a lawful programme this year that offers free IVF to sperm donors as 'payment in kind' for fertility treatment.

Laura Witjens, chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), suggests that the shortage of donors is not due to the change in loss of anonymity but rather has always existed and is attributable to a lack of awareness; she favours awareness campaigning. The NGDT requires 500 sperm donors annually, but recruited only 160 donors in 2005 so it launched an aggressive campaign. Despite criticism of the unconventional online campaign which operated from giveatoss.com and included a 'Toss-O-Meter' game inviting visitors to 'test their wrist action', it successfully led to a temporary rise in sperm donors.

Potential donors are men between 18 and 45 and women between 18 and 35 who are fit and healthy with no strong family history for medical problems. Ideally, they are men and women who have completed their own family and are willing to help others have a family. Volunteers to the Aberdeen Fertility Clinic can contact co-ordinator Lorraine Stewart, in confidence, on 01224 553612 or email.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Appeal for egg and sperm donors
BBC News Online |  6 November 2007
Donor crisis means IVF couples face 3-year wait
The Scotsman |  7 November 2007
Egg and sperm donor plea succeeds
BBC News Online |  9 November 2007
Woman told as a teenager she needed IVF in plea for donors
The Herald |  7 November 2007
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