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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

China's celebrity sperm bank

China's rich and famous, its brainy and its beautiful, are being called upon to make a new contribution to the nation's development by donating their sperm.

A state-run sperm bank in south west China's Sichuan province has made the appeal to try to fill an increasing demand for what doctors there call sperm with "high quality characteristics".

The right kind of sperm

Infertile couples from China's newly rich urban elite are reportedly willing to pay well over the odds for sperm with the right genetic heritage.

Since reports of the "celebrity sperm bank" appeared in national newspapers a week ago, the centre says it has been inundated with inquiries from prospective couples from across China. It says it has also had some tantalising offers.

A doctor at the clinic told the BBC that one had come from a "very famous" movie star, although he refused to be more specific.

He said couples can already choose from a range of donated sperm from intellectuals, academics and other well known people. Prospective parents can select from a host of desired characteristics, but the donor's identity remains a secret.

Fall in male fertlity

News of the new service comes hot on the heals of another report that severe pollution in China's big cities is causing a dramatic fall in male fertility, and a surge in demand for in-vitro fertilisation.

The report in the Workers Daily quoted officials at one Beijing hospital as saying they get more than 60 phone calls a day, and had received more than 10,000 letters over the last two years from couples seeking artificial insemination.

The hospital's test tube baby facility, it said, is fully booked until the end of next year.

Heavy pollution

The report laid the blame on China's heavily contaminated environment. One member of China's parliament recently labelled Beijing the most polluted capital in the world.

The city has long been plagued by dust storms blowing out of the Gobi desert, but today it faces the added burden of heavy industrial pollution and the rapid growth of car traffic and its accompanying exhaust fumes.

While falling fertility may be good for the test-tube baby industry, it has also raised another alarming prospect.

Officials at a sperm bank in China's eastern metropolis, Shanghai, have warned that a dearth of sperm donors, combined with rapidly growing demand, could result, 20 to 30 years from now, in marriages between people who unknowingly have the same genetic father.

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