Q&A: Sperm donation

sperm Regulations regarding sperm donation changed in 2007

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How does insemination differ from other forms of fertility treatment?

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) involves mixing sperm and eggs in a laboratory environment, then putting back embryos.

Insemination, however, simply requires healthy sperm to be introduced into the woman to coincide with ovulation. There is a reasonable chance of achieving pregnancy, provided there are no underlying fertility problems.

When did the law change?

Since April 2007, under the Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations, any provider wanting to "procure, test, process or distribute" unfrozen sperm has had to hold a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Prior to this, although fertility treatments involving frozen sperm needed to be licensed, insemination using fresh sperm was completely unregulated.

Why did the rules change?

The HFEA said that the lack of regulation was exposing people to serious risks. Donors did not have to be screened, and donated sperm could carry disease, including HIV and chlamydia.

The rise in the number of internet-based sperm donation firms had only increased worries about safety.

Under the new system, donors are registered and given blood tests, while sperm is "quarantined" for six months prior to use.

There can also be no future paternity claims against registered donors, while this is always a possibility in unregulated arrangements.

In addition, the anonymity of registered sperm donors was removed in 2005. Using an unregistered donor meant there was no guarantee that information would be held for the benefit of any child in future years.

Are all sperm donations covered by the licensing system?

No. The law covers commercial premises and organisations.

A simple private arrangement between a donor and a woman, in which no money changes hands, does not presently require a licence.

How many internet providers are now licensed by the HFEA?

So far, there have been no licences issued to internet-based providers, only to existing clinics.

The HFEA has contacted a number of internet services to remind them of their responsibilities, and urges women to use a licensed clinic to screen sperm, even where it is from a donor known to the recipient.

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