Online sperm donation sites a sign of need for greater regulation
Looking for a sperm donor? How about Bren: he is Danish, qualified in IT administration and has green eyes. Or maybe Malek: he is an Iraqi, works as a chauffeur and has brown eyes. Bren and Malek’s credentials are spruiked on a sperm and egg bank website based in Denmark that ships to more than 100 countries, including Australia
Closer to home, as reported by The Age on Sunday, is a popular Facebook group, Sperm Donation Australia, which has more than 11,000 members and matches sperm donors with those hoping to start or expand their families. Adam Hooper, who runs the group, claims to have helped facilitate more than 430 births last year.
A dearth of local donors has made such unregulated online options an easy alternative for those seeking to have a child with donated sperm. And while there has been more demand than supply for some time in Victoria, the pandemic has only made the shortfall greater. Figures from the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority tell the story: there were just 335 regulated sperm donors available in the state at the start of the financial year, down from 424 the previous year.
With little to no oversight of the online options – international websites have only reputational damage as a deterrent to malpractice – the pitfalls are numerous. While some countries limit the number of children a donor can father, or cap the number of families they can donate to (Victorian laws restrict donors to fathering children for no more than 10 families), the growing number of means by which a donor can offer their wares makes it virtually impossible to track what is going on.
Some local unregulated donors prefer to impregnate women through “natural insemination”, or sex, leading in certain instances to allegations of sexual assault.
But the high cost and bureaucracy of regulated clinics, where out-of-pocket expenses can often be $5000 to $7000 for each cycle, and a lack of local sperm-clinic donors, is forcing more women to find other avenues.
In an effort to improve the situation, the Andrews government made good on a long-held promise last week with a $70 million commitment towards establishing public fertility care services. The funding includes $3.5 million to launch Australia’s first public sperm and egg bank, a recommendation of an independent review of assisted reproductive treatment that was completed two years ago.
But there is little detail so far as to the services the government-backed sperm and egg bank will provide. Will it actively recruit more donors? Will it be able to bring in sperm or eggs from outside Victoria to help with the shortage in local supply? Would it provide medical testing of donated sperm or eggs where the donor and recipient know each other?
It is remarkable that, in many respects, individuals have been left to navigate their way through the many shortcomings of an industry that provides the essential building blocks of human life.
While Victoria is ahead of most states in regulating the industry, it is a long way from putting proper measures in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all parties, including the rights of the children being born.
The laws determining the termination of a human pregnancy have, quite rightly, been debated at length. It is time similar attention was given to the means by which some pregnancies are conceived.
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