The increase in requirement of sperm donation over recent years can be ascribed primarily to the changing landscape of those wishing to create a family. Traditional scenarios would have involved a heterosexual couple who required donated sperm to avoid passing on a genetic disease or because sperm numbers or quality were too poor for natural or assisted, conception. The need for this service has steadily increased with the changing demographic of people approaching fertility clinics such as female same sex couples and women wishing to conceive as a single parent. The latest available statistics show that there has been a 24% increase in the last seven years in the number of same sex female couples requiring treatment with donor sperm, for example. The need for this service has not gone unanswered as we see many on-line agencies springing up, where for a small fee may select donor sperm to use in a home insemination kit based on a ‘dating agency’ set of credentials. These practices are clearly completely unregulated and carry huge risks.
Over 20% of donated sperm used in UK fertility treatment is now imported from abroad. Some clinics report waiting lists of up to two years; longer if a non-Caucasian donor is sought. Why is there such a shortage of UK donors? Primarily this is thought to be due to the removal of donor anonymity whereby after a change in the law, donor-conceived children at the age of 18 could find out identifying details about their donors. Although there would be no financial or legal responsibility to the child, for many, this factor may have deterred donation.
So what are we looking for in a successful sperm donor? Donors should be aged between 18-41 and preferably have proven fertility. What does donation entail? Sperm donors must have blood and chromosome screening tests for infectious disease and heritable disease. As well as these selection criteria being met, the sperm sample provided must be of a suitable quality to be accepted by the laboratory in terms of sperm number and motility. The sample must also be ‘test frozen’ to ensure that it can withstand the process of freezing and being stored for treatment. On average, we ask for five to ten samples over a period of months. Donors are then matched to recipients based on height, build, eye colour, hair colour and ethnicity. CARE Fertility encourages sperm donation in all of its seven UK clinics.