Page last updated at 12:35 GMT, Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Brits opting for IVF 'Viking' babies

By Ellen Otzen
BBC World Service in Copenhagen

Vita Nova clinic
Business is booming at the Vita Nova clinic

The shortage of donor sperm in the UK has prompted British women to travel to Denmark in the hope of conceiving a child.

Ten-month old Oscar burps and babbles - like any healthy baby. But Oscar's origins are unusual.

His father is an anonymous Danish sperm donor and if it had not been for a recent law change in Denmark, Oscar would not be here at all.

For years his mother Abby, a London lawyer who does not want to use her real name, wanted to have a child of her own.

It does seem ludicrous that one has to travel so far to have a child
IVF mother

But when she found herself still single at 41, she decided to try for insemination with donor sperm.

After three unsuccessful attempts at her local London hospital, she was told there was no more available sperm left.

Abby eventually contacted a fertility clinic in Denmark.

Following IVF treatment there, she had a positive pregnancy test. She describes Oscar as her "miracle baby".


A new act from the UK's fertility watchdog - the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - came into force this month.

I don't want anything to do with the children that grow up and want to find their father
Sperm donor

It allows people who were conceived with donor sperm to identify any half-siblings they might have.

But it does not address what has been described as the most pressing issue - the shortage of donor sperm in the UK.

Abby is not the only woman who has conceived with donor sperm from outside the UK.

With more and more women deciding to have children on their own, hundreds of British women are now travelling abroad for insemination.

Denmark, as home to the world's biggest sperm bank, is a popular destination.

The Danish spermbank Cryos exports sperm to 60 countries around the world. Its slogan is "Congratulations, it's a Viking".

Unlike the UK, it allows donors to be anonymous as well as paying them for their donations.

Since 2005 men in Britain have not been allowed to donate sperm anonymously, and demand in the UK now outstrips supply.

While the UK has ended the right to anonymity of donors, the Danes have been liberalising.

In 2007 it it became legal for Danish doctors to perform IVF on single women using sperm from anonymous donors.

No waiting lists

Insemination has become good business for Danish fertility clinics.

Sophie Bugge
Women who have decided to have a child don't feel that they can wait two years, if there is a two-year waiting list
Sophie Bugge
Vita Nova

DanFert clinic in Copenhagen is now treating around 50 British women each year - in 2007 it saw only 20.

And Copenhagen's Vita Nova clinic has seen a 40% increase in the number of British women coming there each year since the clinic opened in 2005.

"In many of Denmark's neighbouring countries they have changed the laws so that donors can no longer be anonymous," said Sophie Bugge, head midwife at Vita Nova.

"This change in the law makes the waiting list for donor semen a lot longer.

"Women who have decided to have a child don't feel that they can wait two years, if there is a two-year waiting list.

"That is the most common reason to choose treatment in another country."

As well as the UK, the clinic also treats women from Germany, Sweden, Norway and Italy - a couple of women have travelled all the way from Uganda and Australia for treatment.

Casual donor

For Abby in London, travelling out of her own country for the insemination was a difficult experience.

"It does seem ludicrous that one has to travel so far to have a child when the law is framed in a way that should allow it to happen here," she said.

It is clear that the changing of the law has diminished the number of men who are prepared to volunteer to be donors her.

The casual donor - the student who did it for his beer money in the 1970s and 80s, doesn't exist any more," she said.

But that casual donor does still exist in Denmark.

Jonas, a 24-year-old science student, has been a sperm donor for 18 months.

He does it for the money and to get a health check a couple of times a year.

Would he carry on donating sperm if he could no longer be anonymous?

"Probably not, because I don't want anything to do with the children that grow up and want to find their father," he said.

He receives between 300 and 1000 Danish kroner ($60-$200) for each donation, depending on the quality of the sperm.

Meanwhile, the Cryos sperm bank is thriving.

In 2007 it opened a franchise in the US.

Last year, another franchise followed in India.

"Because of the recession, we are actually seeing a rise in the number of sperm donors coming to us right now," said Cryos CEO Ole Schou.

In Britain, HFEA has recently said that a longstanding ban on paying sperm donors should be reconsidered to address the donor shortage.

But until the law changes, British women will have to keep travelling to places like Denmark for help in conceiving a baby.

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