On 30th October, The National Gamete Donation Trust – in conjunction with Birmingham Women’s Hospital – opened the first UK National Sperm Bank. Whilst sperm banks have been open throughout the UK, previously they were privately run, resulting in insemination costs of around £4000. However, the bank means that women can pay just £300 for insemination with donated sperm.The chances of conception for a couple having regular, unprotected sex for a month is just 20% when a woman is in her 30s – and this statistic drops significantly once a woman hits her 40s, to only 5%. The chance for conception by a single male or female, or a same-sex couple, is obviously nonexistent, bar any one-night stands. As a result, it isn’t surprising that many people resort to many different kinds of fertility treatment to aid the baby-making process.
Sperm donation is one of the more stigmatised options, but this could all be about to change.
The need for NHS funded banks is a result of the ever rising demand for sperm. Single women may not wish to wait to find a partner before they start a family, same sex couples may wish to reproduce, or a heterosexual couple may be infertile. Male infertility has many cause*s, the most common being a reduced quality of sperm. This can be due to low sperm count (oligozoospermia), poor sperm motility (asthenozoospermia), incorrect morphology (teratozoospermia), all of the above (oligoasthenoteratozoospermia) or having no sperm (azoospermia).
Whilst the number of donations is on the rise, from 239 in 2004 up to 586 last year, this increase is not keeping up with the rapid demand (especially as 10% of IVFs use sperm donations). Whilst there are privately run banks in the UK, most donations are made overseas – mainly from the USA and Denmark, Denmark’s advertising slogan being ‘These are the main Danish export products—beer, Lego and sperm!’. The new sperm bank hopes to increase the number of donations made in Britain, to reduce reliance on other countries.
Not only does the new Sperm Bank aim to help individuals and couples to successfully start their families, it hopes to remove the stigma of donation, and to prevent patients from putting themselves at risk by using unregulated services. A month long investigation into online sperm donation sites found men offering to have unprotected sex with women to ‘aid their conception’. However, not only are these clinics dangerous from a health point of view (who can be sure that the donors have had full STI tests?) but the legal guardianship of any child produced is also an issue.
Regulated donation means that – according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – the individual/couple who receive the donation are the legal parent(s), and the donor has no rights or financial obligations to the child. However, when donations are unregulated, the donors are the legal fathers of any children that are produced, complicating matters. NHS funded Banks intends to make affordable insemination available to all, reducing the use of unregulated donations and the risks involved.
When speaking to the BBC, Dr Allan Pacey (the chairman of the British Fertility Society) stated that Birmingham was chosen as the site of the bank due to its status as one of the most multicultural cities in the UK, meaning that the hoped increase in donations will be ethnically diverse.
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