Majority of new sperm donors in UK now come from overseas, new figures show
For the first time, more than half of people signing up to donate are from abroad – with the United States and Denmark being the biggest exporters to Britain, regulators have found.
Regulators said in some cases women turned to imported sperm because they were unable to find a donor in that country.
Julia Chain, president of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said she was concerned that some might take the “extremely risky” route of finding donors online, without the proper checks being carried out.
The data shows a tripling of the number of children born from donor sperm over the past 15 years, from less than 900 in 2006 to more than 2,800.
The watchdog said this was driven by single parents and women in same-sex relationships.
As demand has increased, the number of new sperm donors from the UK has fallen slightly, according to figures from the HFEA.
Overseas donations amount to 52%
For the first time there were more new sperm donors from overseas than from the UK in 2020, with 52% from overseas.
Ten years ago, when there were 475 new donations, one in five came from abroad.
Last year the figure was 772 – and the majority came from abroad.
While 400 new sperm donations came from overseas in 2020, there were 372 from the UK.
The most common country of export was the United States, where 27% of donations came from, along with 21% from Denmark.
In these countries, the expenses are more generous, while those considering a sperm donor can leaf through donor catalogs and select particular physical attributes or occupations.
In Britain, only ‘reasonable’ expenses can be paid and this information is not available.
Watchdog warns of online route
Regulators have said some women are putting themselves and their future families at risk by trying to find sperm donors online.
Ms Chain said: ‘We have been told by some patients that they have imported semen for treatment because of difficulty in finding a suitable UK donor. I fear that without proper access there is a danger that people will turn to donors online, which can be extremely risky.
“Approved clinics in the UK are legally bound to ensure the protection of donors, patients and any future children.
“The clinics carry out rigorous health tests and take care of the legal paperwork that ensures donors are not considered the legal parent with all the rights and responsibilities that entails. They should also offer advice to all concerned, so that they are fully aware of the implications of their decision.
“That’s why the HFEA encourages anyone who chooses to donate to use an approved clinic.”
Some of those who choose to obtain sperm overseas thought it was less likely that their offspring would be reunited with their biological father, officials have suggested.
The demand for imported semen is driven by many factors
Ms Chain said: “The number of people choosing to donate sperm in the UK has remained constant in recent years. However, semen imported and used for donation in the UK has increased significantly. This could be due to a number of factors; the availability of ethnically diverse donors, the status of a donor’s anonymity, and the recipient’s choice to reduce their risk and any child conceived by a donor involuntarily meeting and beginning relationships with half-siblings.
Experts said the increased demand for sperm donors from abroad could be driven by a number of factors, including the increased availability of ethnically diverse donors.
They said being able to choose donors based on photographs, personal interests and profession could appeal to some of those looking to start a family, as well as the reduced risk of coming into contact with a donor. .
Under UK rules, donors are anonymous regardless of background, but at the age of 18, people born from donation can ask for identifying information about their donor such as full name, date of birth and last known address.
In total, donor egg or sperm conception resulted in 4,100 births in 2019, up from about 2,500 in 1993, the data shows.