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The number of men registering as sperm donors in the United Kingdom rose by 6% last year. This was despite a new law removing anonymity, which many feared would deter new donations.
In the 12 months to 31 March 2006, the year after the law change, 265 new sperm donors registered with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), of whom 208 were based in the UK. The previous 12 months had seen 250 new donors, of whom 197 were based in the UK.
Shirley Harrison, the authority's chairwoman, said: “These new figures show that the predicted drop in sperm donor numbers is a myth.
“The decision by the UK parliament to remove anonymity for those sperm and egg donors who registered after 1 April 2005 has always been controversial. Many commentators continue to claim that the change in the law to remove anonymity for sperm and egg donors would lead to an immediate and steep fall in the number of donors.”
However, she added, “More and more individual clinics are increasing their efforts to recruit sperm donors. These figures show that these efforts have been paying off and the early indications are that the numbers of sperm donors are continuing to increase all the time.”
Mark Hamilton, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said he “noted with interest the HFEA's report of a slight increase in the number of sperm donors registering in the UK in 2006.”
But he added that the society “remains concerned that availability of sperm donation services remains patchy at best throughout the country.
“The society is aware of several centres which have now withdrawn donor insemination services to patients; and for those [patients] who may be fortunate to be able to access treatment, costs and waiting times have greatly increased.”
Last September a BBC survey of 84 fertility clinics and one sperm bank in the UK found that more than two thirds said they were getting “no sperm” or are having “great difficulties” in getting supplies.
Dr Hamilton said that a working party convened by the British Fertility Society, with representation from providers, patients, the regulator, and the Department of Health, would be reporting shortly with an analysis of the present situation and would make recommendations on national service delivery to address the present difficulties.
In September 2005 the HFEA issued the report Who are the Donors? as part of its review of the sperm, egg, and embryo donation system. It showed that sperm donors are now typically family men in their 30s rather than the outdated stereotype of a medical student in his teens or early 20s.
Ms Harrison acknowledged that the number of egg donations had fallen since 1997, but she added that “the procedures for and issues involved in egg donation are much more complex, as are the reasons why women may or may not choose to donate.”
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (Disclosure of Donor Information) Regulations 2004 are at www.opsi.gov.uk/SI/si2004/20041511.htm.