Online sperm donors: Do women really have a choice?

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The risks to single women and women in same-sex relationships who use online sperm donors continues. But some women are left with no choice but to go online until authorities address the barriers that stop them from accessing sperm via regulated clinics.

The risks for single women and women in same-sex relationships who use online sperm donors has been highlighted again in the UK. This time by two popular BBC programs: Woman’s Hour and Out Of The Ordinary.

Both programs highlighted the risks to women by exploring Annie’s story. Annie is 35 and single. She has three children and she wants a fourth. She can’t afford to use a fertility clinic. So instead, Annie turned to the internet to look for sperm donors online.

During her search she found that there are a lot of men online that “do not charge the recipients but there are some that make a living out of it. The going rate is £50 a time”.

However, she also explained that this fee can be waived if you’re willing to use NI or “natural insemination” – in other words, to have unprotected sex with a stranger. Annie said: “If you accept straight sex they don’t charge”. Annie went on to clarify that “At the end of the day, it’s down to the recipient. If the recipient is happy with doing full sex with a complete stranger – then that’s up to them. Obviously, the donors are aware of how desperate some females are”.

As the program continued, Annie shared that she had found a donor but yet she had no way of knowing whether he had any sexually transmitted diseases or genetic disorders. Nevertheless, these were risks she was willing to take to have another child.

Juliet Tizzard, Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at the UK’s Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), was also interviewed by Woman’s Hour. Tizzard, similarly to Annie, outlined the “significant risks” involved with using online sperm donors. She highlighted that the women were placing themselves at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, passing on genetic disorders to their children and placing themselves in vulnerable situations that might compromise their personal safety.

However, there was no mention in the program of how the HFEA might help address barriers, such as affordability, discrimination and donor anonymity, which may be stopping many women from using fertility clinics.

The fees involved in buying sperm through UK clinics vary but admittedly the fees are usually costly. It is not uncommon for the cost of using donor sperm through a private clinic to be in the region of £1,000 per cycle, for example. This fee is paid in addition to treatment costs that may be in the region of £1,500 – £2,000 per insemination, including tests, scans and administrative fees. These fees are too expensive for many women.

Women in same-sex relationships may also experience discrimination when accessing fertility services. This still occurs even though the UK has legislation in place to protect women in same-sex relationships. For example, some women who have tried to access fertility treatment through the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) have had their relationships compared to polygamous marriages, which unlike same-sex civil partnerships or marriages are illegal in the UK. Also, women in same-sex relationships have been told erroneously by NHS healthcare professionals that they aren’t allowed to be treated at the same time due to HFEA regulations. But, the HFEA have no regulations that stop this from happening. These practices make it difficult, if not impossible, for such women to access donor sperm.

A third issue that leads to some women using online sperm donors is having contact with the donor while the child is growing up. Donor access is important to these women as they value donor involvement in their child’s life and they want their child to know their biological origins. However, in the UK when children are conceived through donor sperm in clinics the child can only contact their donor when they reach 18.

Given these issues, it’s no wonder the gap between the use of online sperm donors versus using sperm through fertility clinics continues and it may continue until some of these barriers are addressed.

This episode from Australian TV channel SBS’s Insight program explores the issue of sperm donation from the perspective of donors and donor-conceived adults.

 

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