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Assisted Reproduction

Britain Suffering From Sperm Shortage

Troubling news out of Britain for those who need donor sperm and eggs:

A DRASTIC lack of sperm donors in Britain means women wanting babies are resorting to importing semen from abroad or using do-it-yourself insemination kits bought on the internet, fertility experts said yesterday. A change in the law in 2005 which removed sperm donors’ right to anonymity has led to a sharp fall in the number of donations and a nationwide shortage, according to research by Allan Pacey of Sheffield University’s Medical School.

“We are really in a terrible position in the UK,” Pacey wrote in a study in the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist journal. In some clinics waiting times can be at least a year for the first treatment, experts say, and if that fails there are further delays before another round of treatment can be offered.

Data from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show a steady decline in the number of patients in Britain receiving treatment with donor sperm, falling from almost 9,000 in 1992 to just over 2,000 in 2007.

Heading overseas

Pacey said the fall was partly due to patients opting for other treatments like intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection, which involves injecting a single sperm into an egg. But he said it was also due to “a serious shortfall in the number of sperm donors available in UK clinics.” Pacey said he had heard reports of long waiting lists and the shortage of sperm forcing some clinics to close. “More worryingly, however, is anecdotal evidence that women patients are traveling to clinics overseas to seek treatment,” Pacey wrote. “There have also been reports of women purchasing fresh sperm online for DIY (do-it-yourself) insemination.”

Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services in central England, said the study reflected exactly the problems at her clinic. “It’s definitely what we have been finding,” she said. “And the shortage of donors has meant a very drastic reduction in the quality of treatment we can offer, not only in terms of increased waiting time, but also in the reduction of choice about donor characteristics.”

HFEA chief Lisa Jardine said last July the authority may reconsider the British ban on payments for sperm and egg donors in an effort to encourage more people to come forward as donors.


3 comments for “Britain Suffering From Sperm Shortage”

  • I wrote about this on my blog as well, and I’m frankly perplexed. http://julieshapiro.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/the-mythical-uk-sperm-shortage/

    If you go to the actual statistics of the HFEA (I linked to them from my blog) they seem to show that the number of new donors actually hit its low point in 2004–the year before the law in question took effect. Since then, the number has been rising–it’s higher now than it has been since 1996.

    Under these circumstances, even if there is a sperm shortage (someone suggested that perhaps more donors are rejected now)it would be hard to tie that to the law about donor identity.

    I haven’t seen a good explanation for this apparent contradiction. Any thoughts?

  • This is just more misinformation from Dr Pacey who was against the ending of donor anonymity in the first place.

    According to HFEA figures, the numbers of UK sperm donors have gone *up* four years in a row since the ending of anonymity, thus reversing a three year decline. The 396 donors in 2008 was the highest figure since 1996, and 77% more than in 2004 just before anonymity ended.

    • Thank you for the clarification. However, it still is pretty remarkable that given the population of the UK, there are only 396 sperm donors. While I appreciate this number might be rising, it is still a tiny number of what you would expect for a population in excess of 61 million people.

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