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Last Updated: Friday, 16 September 2005, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Sperm ships for fertility seekers
Image of sperm
There is a shortage of sperm donors in the UK
British people may soon be able to board ships anchored off the coast to obtain fertility treatment forbidden in the UK, such as anonymous donor sperm.

Some fear the removal of anonymity from sperm donors in April will exacerbate the shortage of donors, affecting infertile couples.

Ole Schou from the international sperm bank company Cryos, based in Denmark, is consultant to the ship scheme.

Ships would be governed by the laws of the country whose flag they flew.

If you have different regulations on treatments then you will have trading across borders
Mr Ole Schou from Cryos
He envisages that the ships would be equipped with operating theatres and clinics which could be staffed with UK doctors.

Mr Schou, who is advising business planners outlining the cost of such enterprises, believes there could be a market for hundreds of ships in Europe, and all would be completely legal.

As the fertility ships would be governed by the laws of their own country, people from many different countries would be able to sidestep their own nation's fertility laws.

In Denmark for example, it is illegal for fertility doctors to assist lesbians and single people in their quest for a baby.

Legal loopholes

Danish couples are also unable to keep IVF embryos frozen for more than two years, which Mr Schou said can put big time stresses on them when trying to plan a family.

The concept is not new. In 2001, a Dutch ship docked in Dublin, Ireland, and offering abortions onboard.

Mr Schou said: "It is important that we find a solution for people.

I can see why couples may consider it but they need to be very careful
Claire Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK

"These very restrictive legislations leave patients in a bad situation, unable to find help for their needs."

He said it was a question of marketing.

"If you have different regulations on treatments then you will have trading across borders."

Cryos already supplies anonymous donor sperm to people in the UK upon a UK doctor's request.

Infertility Network UK said it had been getting more calls from people interested in going abroad to seek fertility treatment because of long waiting times in the UK due to donor shortages.

Chief executive Claire Brown said: "We do have a massive shortage of both sperm and egg donors.

"With the removal of anonymity there are some couples who did not agree with that and do not want their donor to be known.

"I can see why couples may consider it but they need to be very careful."

She said it was important for any person seeking treatment to be sure that the service they opted for was safe and legal.

A spokesman from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates and inspects all UK clinics providing IVF, donor insemination or the storage of eggs, sperm or embryos, said such ships would fall outside of the authority's regulation.

"Our job as the UK regulator is to provide guarantees for people in terms of the safety and the appropriateness of the treatment they are receiving.

"We are not saying people should not make this choice, but you can't be sure what you are getting."

He said there was also a question mark over who would provide after care if things went wrong.

Sperm donor anonymity ends
31 Mar 05 |  Health

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