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Directors of illegal sperm website given suspended sentence

18 October 2010
Appeared in BioNews 580

Two men convicted of providing sperm over the Internet without a licence have escaped a custodial sentence. Nigel Woodforth, 43, and Ricky Gage, 49, were given a nine-month suspended prison sentence at Southwark Crown Court. They were also fined £15,000 each, given 200 hours of community service and ordered to contribute towards the prosecution's legal costs. They are forbidden from working in reproductive medicine again.

The men operated a website, Fertility 1st, where women could select from a database of anonymous sperm donors and order sperm delivered to their door for use in artificial insemination. Mr Woodforth and Mr Gage were convicted on three counts of illegally procuring sperm without a licence under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

Up to 800 women signed up for the service and had to pay an £80 joining fee and a further £300 to use the service. Delivery of sperm could be made by courier for an arrangement fee of £150. The court also heard how selections could be made on the donor's height, hair colour, ethnicity and hobbies. Mr Woodforth and Mr Gage reportedly made around £250,000 from the service between October 2007 and November 2008.

In passing sentence, Judge Deborah Taylor said: 'Your disregard of the warnings you were given is, in my judgement, a serious aggravating feature in this case'. 'There are strong policy reasons why people such as you with no medical experience or qualifications should not provide services in this field', she said. 

Under existing law anyone who wishes to 'procure, test, process or distribute' fresh sperm must have a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Licensed clinics are required to perform numerous safety tests on sperm to eliminate the risk of diseases, such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). They must also offer service users access to counselling. Some fear the unlicensed provision of sperm may place users at risk and exploit vulnerable women.

Upon news of the verdict, the HFEA announced it will investigate websites that introduce women to potential sperm donors to ensure such services comply with the law. Mr Woodforth and Mr Gage are said to be 'very relieved' at their sentence. 'We always believed we were doing the right thing', said Gage.

Businessmen spared jail over illegal sperm deal
Metro |  13 October 2010
Pair escape jail for illegal sperm business
Reuters |  12 October 2010
Sperm donors and the internet
The Telegraph |  4 October 2010
Suspended jail term for illegal sperm website pair
BBC News |  12 October 2010
18 February 2013 - by Nina Chohan 
Palestinian prisoners are reportedly smuggling sperm out of Israeli prisons to impregnate their wives...
15 November 2010 - by Ken Hanscombe 
A new IVF technique developed in Australia offers hope to couples who have problems conceiving due to damaged sperm. The technique called Digital High-Mag allows fertility experts to study sperm cells at much higher resolution than before, enabling them to more readily detect those cells most likely to lead to a successful conception and full-term pregnancy....
27 September 2010 - by Professor Allan Pacey 
Thanks to the successful conviction of two men from Reading, we now know trading in fresh sperm on the internet is illegal. Sounds like a lesson in the obvious, but this is the first time the law has been clarified - after many years of watching several of these so-called businesses appear and disappear. Hopefully, we will now finally see an end to such operations...
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...
21 June 2010 - by Professor Vardit Ravitsky 
The debate surrounding the rights and welfare of donor offspring has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and a growing number of countries have already banned anonymous sperm donation to ensure the right of offspring to access information about their donors...
26 April 2010 - by Ben Jones and Dr Vivienne Raper 
Should egg and sperm donors be rewarded with souvenir mugs and T-shirts? An independent think tank has launched a consultation to consider this and other radical ideas for increasing donations...
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