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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 August 2005, 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK
Web sperm sites crackdown planned
Pregnant woman in shadow
Websites offer donor eggs and sperm to women who want children
Proposals to regulate internet sites trading in human sperm and eggs are set to be unveiled this week by ministers.

The plans are part of a wider consultation on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) 1990.

Websites currently fall outside existing regulation, and so do not have to comply with the same safety and quality procedures as clinics.

The head of one of the sites said he would welcome it being accredited.

It's better to have a medical involvement... You could spend several thousand pounds - go through several cycles and not know that your fallopian tubes were blocked for example
Professor Ian Craft
London Fertility Centre
Clinics which carry out IVF treatment are monitored by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

But there is no such control for websites which deliver sperm and kits for insemination at home, or which match egg donors and surrogate mothers.

Because the companies operate databases, rather than actual clinics, they do not come within reach of the HFEA.

This means they are not inspected or obliged to screen donors for genetic problems or sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, which has led to concerns about safety.

The Department of Health has said there are a number of other concerns regarding how internet sites operate, including the fact that donors do not have the same legal protection as donors at regulated clinics.

This means website donors are regarded as the legal parent, unlike those who donate via clinics.

The consultation will ask if the law should be changed to make sure internet companies meet the same standards as fertility clinics - or whether the practice should be banned altogether.

'Stringent testing'

Health Minister Caroline Flint said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act had served well, but the government wanted to ensure legislation kept up with the latest scientific developments.

John Gonzalez, chief executive of the Man Not Included website, said his business did screen donors for HIV and other infections.

It offered a "simple route" for people who wanted to conceive, he added.

He said he supported "some sort of accreditation", although not at the same level as fertility clinics.

"That would be like trying to saying you could have the same regulations governing the use of a tricycle to those for a Ferrari."

'Several thousand pounds'

Professor Ian Craft of the London Fertility Centre - a private firm which offers IVF - told the BBC: "I think it's better to have a medical involvement - it's not just man not included, it's man and doctor not included.

"You could spend several thousand pounds - go through several cycles and not know that your fallopian tubes were blocked for example.

"There are always health risks if you're not screened in the same way that you're screened in an HFEA approved centre."

Officials acknowledge they can target internet companies only if they are based in the UK.

See how the websites operate

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