If you look back over the past several years you’ll find some posts about a reported shortage of sperm donors in the UK. These were generated after I read repeated news stories about this problem. (I linked to some of those stories in my 2010 post.)
Now the popular explanation for the sperm shortage was that in 2006 UK law changed and essentially abolished anonymous sperm donation. The identity of sperm donors is now to be made available to any children born via that donation when the children turn 18. The story you’ll find consistently in the media is that the loss of anonymity caused the sperm donor shortage.
But that’s just not the case–though somehow this doesn’t seem to be news. In that 2010 post I wrote about how the actual number of donors, reported by the HFEA was growing, not shrinking. Now, thanks to ml66uk you can see that this trend has continued. Here are the recent HFEA statistics. In 2006 (the year the law changed) there were 303 donors. In 2010 (the last year there is data reported) there were 480. That’s over 50% more donors than there were six years ago.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a sperm shortage. Maybe there is. It could be, for example, that donors are having fewer offspring or remaining donors for shorter periods of time or that the demand for donor sperm is increasing more rapidly than the supply.
It also doesn’t mean that the change in law–the shift away from anonymity–hasn’t affected the donor pool. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the donor pool is different in a system where there are no anonymous donors. (There’s been a lot of discussion about this, and the link I included there can take you into that.)
But it most assuredly means that it is simply wrong to say that the shift to anonymous donors has caused a sperm shortage. That’s just fiction. I rather hope it is old fiction–I haven’t seen one of those stories in a little while–are they still making the rounds?
I think statistics are always tricky and generally caution is warranted. There’s correlation and then there is causation. Everything I’ve said here is about the former and I’m just speculating about the latter. But looks to me like there are more sperm donors in the UK today than there have ever been before which means the question I’d like to see discussed is why the number of sperm donors is rising. There’s a brief discussion of some possible reasons on the earlier post I started by linking to and maybe I’ll come back and develop that some more here.
In the meantime, note that the money paid to UK donors is going to rise this year as part of an effort to address that sperm shortage. This makes me think that the shortage is real. But it also makes me wonder whether someone is looking into why the number of donors is rising even without offering more money. And of cousre, it will be interesting to see what difference offering more money does make.