Reproduction and Fertility is an open-access, peer-reviewed journal
Page URL:

Directors of online sperm donor business face criminal prosecution

8 June 2009
Appeared in BioNews 511

Last Friday, UK authorities began a legal test case to prosecute two businessmen who were arrested for not having a valid licence to broker the sale of 'fresh' sperm from anonymous donors. The sperm was provided to women for their use in DIY fertility treatments through an online business - Nigel Woodforth and Ricky Gage, the directors of the business, face up to two years imprisonment if found guilty of illegally running a website that is reportedly believed to have matched up to 700 women who wished to purchase sperm for artificial insemination with men willing to donate. Prosecutor Tony Connell explained:' The practice itself is not unlawful. What is unlawful is to do it without a licence.'

Woodforth and Gage deny they require a licence because their service involves the use of 'fresh' semen which, unlike frozen sperm, is not regulated by UK law, and aver that their role is merely one of agency, brokering sperm indirectly by matching women to potential sperm donors without any direct dealing with the sperm samples or insemination process.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government's fertility watchdog and licensing authority, disagrees. UK law requires an HFEA licence to 'procure, test, process or distribute' gametes for human use which, according to the HFEA, includes organisations supplying or transporting of gametes for human use. Connell identified that the key legal issue to be resolved is whether what Woodforth and Gage were doing constitutes 'procuring' which is defined under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 as 'make available'.

In 2005, the removal of donor anonymity caused sperm donor numbers to plummet. Regulated fertility clinics are in crisis with long waiting lists. Reportedly 500 new sperm donors are required each year to meet the estimated 4,000 UK patients that require donor sperm, but in 2006 there were only 307 new registered donors. Increasingly, desperate women have turned to alternative online sperm donation services.

The HFEA warns that significant health risks are associated with unlicensed services. Licensing requires stringent quality checks and regulated clinics test potential sperm donors for HIV, chromosomal and DNA disorders, resulting in only one in 100 men being selected. In addition, promise of donor anonymity is misleading. If the identity is discovered of a donor who did not donate through a licensed clinic then that man is legally recognised as any resulting child's biological father and subject to that financial responsibility, unlike registered sperm donors who can legally contract out of these obligations.

After informing the men that a licence is required on multiple occasions, the HFEA reported them to the police following a customer complaint. Earlier in November 2007, the Guardian published an expose report naming both men as directors of a then-named website, First4Fertility, which provided costly sperm donor services that were misleading and risky.

District Judge Caroline Tubbs at the Westminster Magistrates' Court granted the men unconditional bail on Friday and decided that the matter will be committed this week to the jurisdiction of the Crown Court for consideration.

Online sperm donors are legally responsible for resulting children
The Guardian |  20 November 2007
'Sperm brokers' facing jail for trading via donor website without a licence
The Daily Mail |  31 May 2009
25 February 2013 - by Nina Chohan 
A Canadian fertility consultancy firm and its owner have been charged with allegedly buying or offering to buy sperm or eggs and surrogacy services....
20 September 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Two men prosecuted for illegally providing fresh sperm over the internet have been convicted at Southwark Crown Court. Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 43, operated a website called Fertility 1st through which fertility patients could select from a database of sperm donors and order 'fresh' sperm to be directly delivered, for a fee, to their door....
13 September 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Two men in the UK have been prosecuted for allegedly offering sperm for sale over the internet, according to BBC News. Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 42, both from Reading, are facing two charges brought under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 for operating a website known as Fertility 1st without a licence...
25 January 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
Websites have sprung up offering fresh sperm delivered to your door for DIY insemination by UK women, according to an article in The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist (TOG). UK sperm donor shortages are blamed for creating a market for these 'e-semination' services, which have unclear legal status and are not covered by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulations....
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.