In December of 2011, Ryan and I made three presentations at the 14th Conference on Human Reproduction in Melbourne. Many parts of Australia have acknowledged the rights of donor offspring, and have policies in place so that offspring are able to connect with their donors and half siblings, but some still import sperm from US sperm banks that continue to use anonymous donors and have no practice in place for adequately tracking births, and updating and sharing medical information. Even the “open” donors at some US sperm banks have the option to deny contact when a child turns 18, some change their minds about contact, and some become unreachable after 18 years- there are just no guarantees here. And Australians (and those from other countries around the world that import US sperm) who choose US donors have no way of knowing if their donor helped to produce 50 or 150 children, and if there are medical issues amongst the families or donor.
Overseas Sperm Donors – Is This What We Want Or Need?
Presentations at the 14th World Congress on Human Reproduction held recently in Melbourne were not supportive of clinics importing donor sperm from overseas sperm banks.
PRLog (Press Release) – Feb 14, 2012 –
During the 14th World Congress on Human Reproduction, Wendy Kramer of the Donor Sibling Registry in the USA (from where some of the donor sperm is imported to Australia), says that some sperm banks in the United States have treated donor families unethically, and that it is time to consider new legislation.
Ms. Kramer said, “Just as it’s happened in many other countries around the world, we need to publicly ask the questions ‘What is in the best interests of the child to be born?’ and ‘Is it fair to bring a child into the world who will have no access to knowing about one half of their genetics, medical history and ancestry?’
“These sperm banks are keeping donors anonymous and making a lot of money. But nowhere in that formula is doing what’s right for the donor families.”
Denise Donati, Director of Fertility Solutions Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg said Fertility Solutions has a strong opinion about importing donor sperm and has a clinic policy not to import from overseas. Instead, FSSC has put considerable time and money into recruiting local donors.
Donati had this to say: “At Fertility Solutions we are more focused on being able to facilitate future contact between the donor and any offspring. We do not believe that importing donor semen from overseas supports this.”
Donati said it was very clear from presentations at the recent World Congress, that donor sperm imported from overseas often did not meet the requirements as set out by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), even if they say they do.
“Importing donor sperm is the easy option and something we thought long and hard about at Fertility Solutions” says Donati. “Once our team of nurses, scientists, doctors, and counselors had sat down and talked more about this option, it became clear that it did not fit with the clinic’s ethics on children born from donor sperm having a right to know of their biological origins when they reach the age of 18 – if not before.”
Donati said she heard Ms. Kramer present information on how “unregulated” many of the sperm banks in the USA are, despite the fact they often state otherwise. “This only confirmed my belief that Fertility Solutions was doing the right thing only recruiting and using local sperm donors,” Donati said.
Donati reports that Ms. Kramer spoke of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association where a sperm donor who had no knowledge of an underlying heart disease had donated to a sperm bank over a 2 year period from 1990 to 1991. In 1995, he was diagnosed with a heart disease known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). The occurrence of HCM is a significant cause of sudden unexpected cardiac death in any age group. Nine of the donors twenty four children (twenty two donor kids, two with his wife) have been identified as having HCM (eight of the donor children and one of those produced with his wife). Whilst this can happen in any population, what was the most disturbing was that the authors of the paper stated that no accepted guidelines presently exist (in the USA) for the process of notification, counseling, and offspring evaluation, after a genetic disease is identified due to gamete (sperm or egg) donation (in the USA).
Ms. Kramer noted in her presentation the case of a sperm donor who reportedly has 150 children. And it seems that it doesn’t stop there with some of the donors going to other clinics to donate all over again.
“This is unacceptable” says Donati, “how can Australian clinics who are importing donor sperm be absolutely sure that the criteria set down by the NHMRC is being met. It’s not a chance that we are willing to take. The moral, ethical, and legal ramifications are significant and the impact far reaching not only to the donor, the recipients and child but also the extended families of all parties.
Donati said these reports alone should make clinics that are importing donor sperm from overseas sit up and take notice and reassess their position. “It should not be about money or ease of access but instead about looking after the welfare of all parties involved in the process, donors, recipients and offspring.
“Fertility clinics have a responsibility to all these parties and it certainly seems that there exists a seriously flawed system of donor gamete acquisition and quality surveillance in some USA sperm banks.”