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Can posthumous donation tackle the UK's sperm shortage?

Alegria Vaz Mouyal

Progress Educational Trust

27 January 2020

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[BioNews, London]

Men should be permitted to donate their sperm after death in the same way they can donate organs, according to a new paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

In the UK, demand for donor sperm exceeds supply. Dr Nathan Hodson from the University of Leicester and Dr Joshua Parker from Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, proposed allowing men to include sperm in their posthumous donation wishes, concluding that posthumous sperm donation is of a similar nature to organ donation, therefore, it could be a 'morally permissible' way to increase sperm stocks:

'Gamete donation after death parallels kidney donation by offering the same benefits as donation in life with fewer drawbacks, thereby both incentivising men to donate and providing greater opportunity to fulfil some of their reproductive and altruistic desires' they said in their paper. 

Drs Hodson and Parker point out that corneas are already transplanted from deceased donors, so donation is not limited to life-threatening conditions:
 
'If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in 'life-enhancing transplants' for diseases, we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility, which may or may not also be considered a disease.'

The authors quote HFEA figures showing that treatment cycles with donor sperm are increasing, and the number of newly register sperm donors is insufficient to meet the demand. As such, the UK imports over 7000 sperm samples annually, predominantly from Denmark and the US. 

Evidence suggests that sperm collected within 48 hours after death can result in healthy children. Drs Hodson and Parker hope that encouraging men to donate sperm posthumously would increase the availability of donor sperm by sidestepping some of the barriers to becoming sperm donors, such as loss of anonymity and the need to discuss intimate personal information. 

'If people knew more about the process and were able to make more informed decisions about whether to become a sperm donor, I think we'd see a lot more people opting into doing so,' Jeffrey Ingold, a former sperm donor, told the BBC. 'I also think that having this kind of process might go some way in challenging the stigma or preconceived ideas society has about sperm donation.'

However, the proposal caused concern about the impact on donor-conceived people, who in the UK are entitled to find out the identity of their donor from the age of 18.

Sarah Norcross, director of Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews) told CNN: 

'If we allow sperm donation after death, that opportunity would be closed to donor-conceived people. What do donor-conceived individuals think the impact would be of never being able to meet their donor?' 

Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, agreed: 'I'd much rather that we invested our energy in trying to recruit younger, healthy, willing donors who stand a good chance of being alive when the donor-conceived person starts to become curious about them'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES

Men should be allowed to donate sperm after death, study says
CNN |  22 January 2020
Posthumous sperm donation should be allowed, say UK experts
Reuters |  21 January 2020
Sperm could be harvested from dead men to ease donation crisis, say British doctors
The Telegraph |  20 January 2020
Sperm donations from dead men should be allowed, study says
BBC |  21 January 2020
The ethical case for non-directed postmortem sperm donation
Journal of Medical Ethics |  20 January 2020



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Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 27 January 2020   Date Updated: 27 January 2020
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