UK Sperm Shortage Explained?

For many months I’ve been puzzling over repeated reports of a sperm shortage in the UK.  Generally (as you’ll see if you look at some of my earlier posts) the shortage is attributed to a change in UK law that ensures that those conceived with third-party sperm can learn the identity of the provider when they turn 18.  As I wrote in January, what’s perplexing is that the statistics released by the HFEA do not appear to bear out the assertion that the number of men providing sperm has dropped since the law changed.  

At last, someone has offered an explanation.  This comment from The Guardian suggests the real problem is that most of the sperm available is not being used.   For the moment, I’m just going to link to this, because I’m so gratified that someone else was bothered by this.

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7 responses to “UK Sperm Shortage Explained?

  1. You know, its awful lonely being the only person on the planet that thinks its a public health hazard to have a child with 40 to 50 siblings in roughly the same age group running around in roughly the same geographic region. I’m particularly isolated in that I don’t think sperm and eggs are a fertility treatment. The fertile member of the couple reproduces with someone other than their partner and then everyone pretends its “their” baby. Amazing.

    • This isn’t about forty/fifty siblings, nor do I think you are alone in that concern. And to the extent this is your concern, better record keeping would be a plus, wouldn’t it? It seems that it is lack of confidence in record-keeping that is creating the sperm shortage.

  2. @Marilynn: You are not alone. UK rules have limited donors to 10 donor families since 1991. It appears from this latest article that less than 1% of donors actually reach this limit though. Donor anonymity was ended in 2005, and I believe that all recipients are counselled to be open about conception. In my view, it’s still “their” baby btw, regardless of the genetic parentage.

    @Julie: You’re not the only person who’s been bothered by it. I’ve been getting really tired of article after article talking about a crisis, and drastic drops in donor numbers, whilst ignoring the easily available figures which show the exact opposite.

    Dr Pacey’s name seems to appear in many of these articles. Even in this latest one, he still seems to be suggesting that there’d be more donors if they could be anonymous.

    Perhaps the clinics and sperm banks will now start to address the distribution of donor sperm, rather than complain about the ending of anonymity. Somehow I doubt it though.

    • Can you tell me if the official records of birth list the child’s father or mother as being an anonymous donor (as they should so that nobody represents themself to have a maternal or paternal relationship where one does not exist)? The problem with the end of anonymity when the child turns 18 is that the government recording vital statistics won’t know that a donor was involved unless its recorded in the birth record. Also the anonymous donors sign private waivers of their parental rights to any offspring born and I would think that needs to be tied to each birth record and listed as an anonymous person through a clinic. Or is the government still in the dark listing whoever admits to the paternal relationship and leaving it up to individuals to tell the child so they can search at 18.

      I like how Canada does not have revised birth certificates they have adoption decrees. It does not lessen the authority of the adopters and it does not confuse a child’s parents with a child’s adopters. Its probably difficult to lie to a child in Canada because the birth certificate is not falsified. They should do something like that for the step parent in ART cases with anonymous parents.

      • Birth certificates in the UK usually don’t mention the donor. If the mother is married, then the husband’s name would go down as the father. A scheme was proposed a few years ago where the birth certificate would note that a donor was used, so that parents could not hide that fact. The scheme allowed for donor-conceived people to apply for second birth certificate, but I don’t think it ever came close to being implemented. Recipients have to undergo counselling, and I believe they’re told that it’s in their children’s best interests for them to know they’ve donor-conceived, but there is no enforcement. Twenty years ago, Victoria in Australia gave donors the right to contact their genetic children, which makes it harder for parents to hide the fact from their children that they’re donor-conceived. I doubt that other places will follow that though.

        Some people have called for birth certificates to be a record of genetic parentage rather than legal parentage, but there doesn’t seem to be much support for that. It’s now possible for a birth certificate to have two mothers for instance. To do it properly, the mother, father, and child would need to have DNA tests before any birth certificate could be issued. Most people would find this too intrusive, and there would also be the problem of paternal discrepancy (aka “paternity fraud”) being uncovered.

        • Thanks so much for providing all this info. There are similar sets of issues that arise in the states, of course, and they are dealt with similarly.

          It does seem obvious that if the HFEA means to make good on the pledge to have the identity sperm donor available to the donor conceived child there has to be record keeping and follow up. Is that in place, do you think? It sounds like it depends, at least in part, on the parents of the child telling her/him that she/he was conceived with third-party sperm. Of course, for lesbian mothers that’s fairly obvious. And the UK may be a good deal closer to centralized record keeping (with the HFEA in place) than we are in the states. Except of course I read that the HFEA may be dissolved by the new coalition government?

    • It’s so nice to find others can actually do the math. What’s been particularly annoying is that no one has attempted to square the assertion that there is a shortage and that it was caused by the loss of anonymity with the statistics. One effect of this is to create the impression that men will not provide sperm absent an assurance of anonymity. I don’t think that has been the experience of clinics here in the states were identity-release providers are available from many sperm banks.

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