June 27, 2022

No anonymity means fewer UK sperm donors

The UK’s new National Sperm Bank has been struggling to find volunteers.

The UK’s new national sperm bank – established after the country changed its laws on donor anonymity – has been struggling to find volunteers, with just 9 men registered as donors after one year.

The sperm bank, based in Birmingham and funded by a one off £77,000 award from the Department of Health, was set up in 2014 by the National Gamete Donation Trust and Birmingham Women’s hospital to help counter a serious shortage of sperm donors in the UK. 

The chief executive of the sperm bank, Laura Witjens, says the shortage is the result of two factors: the difficulty of finding suitable donors, and the need for a nationwide advertising campaign.

“If 100 guys enquire, 10 will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys,” Witjens said.

Other sperm bank executives see the removal of anonymity from the legislation as the chief cause of the decrease in donation. “[the changes] have decimated our sperm donation programme…It had a devastating impact”, said Prof Charles Kingsland, founder of the Hewitt Fertility Centre in Liverpool Women’s Hospital. Kingsland’s sperm bank needs another 200 donors to keep up with demand.

Witjens says she is planning a massive ‘recruitment’ campaign, drawing upon the successful sperm donor advertising campaigns in Demark.

“If I advertised saying ‘Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are’, then I would get hundreds of donors,” she told The Guaridan. “That’s the way the Danish do it. They proudly say, this is the Viking invasion, exports from Denmark are beer, lego and sperm. It’s a source of pride.”

She is reluctant, however, to overemphasise male vanity, as this may upset future donor conceived children: “Does that make it more complicated? Hell yes.”

A November advertisement for the sperm bank is planned, which asks men to consider giving an “alternative Christmas gift”.

No anonymity means less sperm donation in UK
Xavier Symons

Some of Britain’s best-known IVF clinics have been accused of “Widespread incompetence” by a High Court judge. Justice James Munby’s scathing decision in cases brought by five heterosexual couples and two same-sex couples who were the victims of sloppy paperwork. After the baby was born they learned that they might not be the legal parents.

Sir James also criticised the UK’s IVF regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA):

“The picture revealed is one of what I do not shrink from describing as widespread incompetence across the sector on a scale which must raise questions as to the adequacy if not of the HFEA’s regulation then of the extent of its regulatory powers. That the incompetence to which I refer is, as I have already indicated, administrative rather than medical is only slight consolation, given the profound implications of the parenthood which in far too many cases has been thrown into doubt.”

According to one parent interviewed by The Guardian, the clinics had “made simple clerical mistakes and as such appeared to be blasé about their legal responsibility to ensure our children were just that in name and in law”. The judge granted legal parentage to all the parents, saying that they had suffered greatly.

This is not the first time that the IVF sector has been embarrassed by lack of attention to detail. After a similar case in 2013, the HFEA found that 51 clinics (46%) had “anomalies” in their records. The HFEA revealed earlier this month that there have been a further 75 of these anomalies.

The judge named the erring clinics used by the parents: St Bartholomew’s Hospital Centre for Reproductive Medicine, the Manchester Fertility Service, and the Bourn Hall clinic (founded by the pioneers of IVF, Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards). 

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