Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Monday, 27 July 2009 15:14 UK

One couple's fight for a family

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

Keith and Libby Wilkin
Keith and Libby Wilkin are about to start their fourth IVF cycle

The shortage of egg and sperm stocks has prompted the UK's fertility watchdog to call for the ban on paying donors to be re-examined.

But rather than the money issue, says one childless husband forced abroad by what he describes as "excessive" waiting lists, it is attitudes that need to change.

When Keith Wilkin and his wife Libby tied the knot two years ago, they set about trying to start a family immediately. They had always known they wanted to be parents and saw no point in delaying.

But six months later Keith's world came crashing down when tests revealed he had a zero sperm count.

'Inadequacy'

It meant he would have to embark on costly IVF treatment using donated sperm after none of his own could be extracted in surgery.

The couple, from Cambridgeshire, paid £10,000 privately for their first IVF cycle and related tests, followed by two more paid by the NHS. They are still childless.

I would argue with anyone who says preventing death is any more important than creating life
Keith Wilkin

Keith, 31, said: "Having a family is still very much the focus of our lives and coping is sometimes less than easy.

"My feelings have ranged from anger, upset, self-pity, resentment, guilt and inadequacy. On a lucky day I've felt all of these."

Next month he and his 39-year-old wife will travel to Cyprus for IVF treatment using donor sperm and donor eggs.

After their unsuccessful attempts in this country, they have decided to maximise their chances by using donor eggs as well.

'Taboo'

He said: "Donor treatment in this country was not an option for us given the excessive waiting lists, and the success rates are higher overseas because the donor culture is different and young donors are recruited."

He said women who donate in Cyprus tend to be students in their 20s, which greatly improves the chances of conceiving.

Keith believes paying donors for sperm or eggs will make no difference to the stock shortages because infertility remains a taboo.

He said: "Changing attitudes is the biggest problem. Sperm donation is generally an odd thing to do in the UK.

"We see these films on US TV and it's shown in a joking manner, it's not an act of kindness."

He points out that in Spain, like in the UK, donors are only paid expenses yet the country has none of the shortages seen here.

And he added that Britain's laws on anonymity - where donors now have to identify themselves - would always limit egg and sperm donations.

When he asked his friends whether they would donate sperm, they told him no way because they did not want "someone knocking on their door in 18 years' time".

Keith said: "In the UK it is very acceptable to give blood. When we do this we all perform an act of kindness and know that in doing this we are helping to prevent death... I would argue with anyone who says preventing death is any more important than creating life."

For now, Keith and Libby's dream of becoming parents rests with their donors in Cyprus.

Mr Wilkin said: "I'm glad that our Ukrainian egg donor lives in a society where this is acceptable and she is not made to feel like an alien.

"Although we will never know our donors, my wife and I will be forever thankful to them in giving us the seeds to have a family."



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