This story comes from the UK. It actually ties back nicely to yesterday’s post on the patchwork of laws around ART. In short, two men in the UK, both doctors, have been criminally charged with procuring sperm without a license.
To understand what’s going on, you might want to go back to this post. Given regulations in place in the UK, the country faces a continuing sperm shortage. More precisely, there is not enough sperm to fulfill the demand for assisted insemination or other forms of ART.
The core of the problem is apparently the legal requirement that the identity of sperm donors be made available to children concieved using that sperm when the children turn 18. The loss of anonymity led to the sperm shortage.
As I noted earlier, you would think it would be possible to increase the compensation offered to prospective donors and thereby increase the number of donors. After all, the ordinary economic laws of supply and price do seem to apply in ART.
The law restricts the provision of frozen sperm. The enterprises that are the subject of these stories (notice they both involve the same man–Nigel Woodforth) do not deal in frozen sperm. Instead, at least in their view, they serve as agents matching interested women with willing donors. They facilitate and coordinate and in the end, through their services, a chosen donor provides fresh sperm. (There’s a description of how this works in the second linked article.) The present charge is that they are procuring sperm without a license.
It’s not my intention to consider whether this is a good thing or not right now. Obviously there are some serious health and safety questions you’d want to satisfy. But I want to make two other points.
First, this is one instance of the enormous variation in law state-to-state or, as in this case, country-to-country. In the US I can sit in my living room, go on line and shop for sperm from a wide array of businesses, some of which will offer anonymous donors and some of which won’t. They may well be (indeed, I hope they are) regulated for health and safety. But it is quite clear that they can be run for profit and can provide donors who meet whatever requirements I might set.
Second, the entire saga from the UK illustrates the difficulty of actually regulating ART, particular donor insemination, which is the simplest form of ART. Insemination can be done at home without any medical supervision. Donating sperm is not in itself difficult, either. Anonymous donation can be (and sometimes is) accomplished by use of an intermediary.
Efforts to control assisted insemination (as a part of controlling ART) are almost always going to be partial. They are also going to end up being fairly intrusive. (In some places home insemination is illegal, because one cannot ensure compliance with state imposed regulations.)