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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2006, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
IVF donor sperm shortage revealed
By Jane Dreaper
Health correspondent, BBC News

Two thirds of IVF clinics have trouble getting the sperm they need

Almost 70% of fertility clinics either have no access to donor sperm, or find it extremely difficult to obtain, a BBC survey suggests.

Specialists say infertile patients are becoming desperate and more resources are needed for campaigns aimed at recruiting donors.

But the government said some clinics had managed to recruit new donors and the rest should follow suit.

Seventy-four of the UK's 85 fertility clinics responded to the poll.

Many clinics panicked donors by saying that the law could possibly be retrospective or that donor conceived people would make huge demands on them
Olivia Montuschi, Donor Conception Network

Fifty of the clinics surveyed said they either had no sperm or insufficient supplies.

Many reported waiting times of at least six months for couples needing donor sperm, and some were having to turn patients away.

'Outside our control'

Zoe and Colin Veal, from Bristol, are among those who are now unsure whether they'll be able to have children.

"It was a huge shock when we realised we weren't going to be able to access treatment," said Zoe.

She said the couple had considered buying fresh sperm over the Internet, or adopting.

"We don't really know where we want to go from here, but it's difficult knowing that the plans you make might not come to fruition because of factors outside your control."

The Veals both work as children's nurses and aren't able to afford the 5,000 price tag for private IVF treatment.

And even if they could, there's no guarantee that the specialised technique called ICSI - where sperm is injected directly into the egg - would work.

Experts say that new sperm donor recruits started to dwindle in number during the run-up to a change in the law last year, which removed anonymity.

The children of sperm donors now have a right to find out who their biological parents - even though they have no responsibilities for the child in law.

The secretary of the British Fertility Society, Dr Allan Pacey, said: "We are certainly in a crisis at the moment - most clinics are finding it difficult to get enough sperm to treat their patients.

"And in the few cases that patients are receiving treatment, they're not necessarily getting the choice they once had and are having to accept treatment with the only donor that's available.

"This is a consequence of the law change and the manner in which it was implemented.

"We made the point that centres needed help and some resources in order to receive donors following the law change - but sadly they've been left to their own devices, and now we have a tremendous crisis on our hands."

'Vital change'

The Department of Health said some clinics have managed to sign up new donors.

And the BBC survey shows that doctors who are still recruiting have been using some imaginative methods - such as targeting workers in the emergency services.

Mark Jackson made a series of 150-mile trips to donate sperm in Manchester last year, and was not troubled by the removal of anonymity.

"I knew this could happen but I think it'll be out of curiosity more than anything else," he said.

"I spoke at a conference - and ladies came up to me afterwards, showing me photos of their children, and talking about how they'd needed a sperm donor so they could have a family.

"It makes you feel as though you definitely did the right thing."

Charities representing donor-conceived people say the change in the law has been a vital measure to bring openness into the lives of adults who were created in this way.

They fought hard to get these rights which, they say, simply put donor-conceived people on a par with those who were adopted and feel a need to contact their biological parents.

Olivia Montuschi, of the Donor Conception Network, said it was more complex than simply saying removing anonymity had led to the shortage of donors, and was also influenced by a change in the type of men thought to be suitable to be donors.

"It is also because many clinics, opposed to the ending of anonymity and unable to believe that the government would actually do it, panicked donors by saying that the law could possibly be retrospective or that donor conceived people would make huge demands on them.

One couple on how a lack of donors has affected them

Q&A: Donor sperm shortage
13 Sep 06 |  Health
Worry over sperm donor shortage
31 Jul 06 |  Health
Sperm donor anonymity ends
31 Mar 05 |  Health

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