Once again I am stumbling on stories like this one or this one. Both draw their information from the same source–Allan Pacey, a senior lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University Medical School. Though I haven’t seen Pacey’s study, the press coverage reports it as finding that sperm donor shortage in the UK.
The UK changed its law in 2005. Before that, the identity of a sperm donor could remain hidden forever. But under the new law, the identity of the donor would be made available to a child conceived using that man’s sperm when the child turned 18.
The stories I’ve linked to (and perhaps the underlying study) seem to say that since the passage of the law, the number of men provided sperm has fallen. Further, they connect those two dots–suggesting that the number fell because of the identity release provisions.
Now while that may seem logical enough. And indeed, I once wrote a post outlining the logic that could connect these two things.
There’s just one problem: As the comments after that post note, the official statistics don’t actually show a decline in the number of donors at the right time.
Here’sa link to the statistics collected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority–the official UK body. The number of donors peaked in the mid-1990s. It reached its low point in 2004 (before the law in question) and has been increasing since then. In 2008 (the last year for which the statistics are reported) the number of new donors registered was 384, which was the largest number since 1996.
Clearly you cannot say the law has caused the number of donors to fall based on these statistics. If anything, it looks like the number of donors has risen (and that could, of course, have nothing whatsoever to do with the law.)
But I do have to wonder about what the studies noted in the press reports are on about. It is true (again according to the HFEA stats) that the number of women having donor insemination fell in 2007 as did the total number of treatments. Is that because there isn’t enough sperm? I cannot tell. (It’s also true that the number of overseas (non-UK) donors is rising, for whatever that is worth.)
I don’t mean to suggest that some of the things in the news stories aren’t actually happening. Perhaps there are long waiting lists and maybe women are going abroad for insemination. But I don’t quite see how you can tie these things together and relate them to the passage of the 2005 law.
Maybe someone could help me figure it out? Or find the actual study that generated the stories? I’m not persuaded there’s any grand conspiracy here. It seems to me more likely that there’s inattention to the subtleties of the statistics, as likely by the press as by the researcher. Still, I’d like to know.