The state of British sperm

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Before the British government published its guidance for a ‘no-deal Brexit’ scenario, in which the UK will exit the European Union without an exit deal, access to sperm was not an issue that was widely discussed.

But a document on the quality and safety of organs outlined the possibility of a curious event as a consequence of a ‘no deal’ Brexit: a shortage of sperm.

Britain currently imports donated sperm mostly from commercial sperm banks in the United States (4,000 samples in 2017), Denmark (3,000 samples imported in 2017) and a small number of other EU states, according to the document.

Leaving without a deal could see the UK leave the EU Tissues and Cells Directives, which regulates the transportation of tissues, cells and sperm from around Europe.

UK licensed establishments working in hospitals, stem cell laboratories and fertility clinics would continue to work as they did before, but some would need “new written agreements with relevant EU establishments,” the paper said.

The guidance comes after Britain’s sperm banks have for years failed to keep up with demand by attracting donors (The Guardian), leading the country to import from overseas.

The success of Denmark’s booming sperm banks has been attributed to their marketing techniques: appealing to male vanity and sending a “superman” message.

The National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), the UK’s only charity raising awareness of the national shortage of sperm, egg and embryo donors in the UK, unsuccessfully attempted to echo the Danish strategy. It stopped recruiting donors and scaled down its operations in 2016 and faces closure in April 2019 due to being unfunded.

Eggs and embryo donation might also be impacted. The government paper said usually fewer than 500 eggs and embryos are imported per year, but they do come primarily from EU countries.

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Questions to be asked

  • What are the requirements for donating sperm in the UK?
  • Why are sperm donation centres not getting enough donations from British men?
  • How many donations do private clinics receive per year?
  • Are men trying to donate sperm but it does not meet the requirements?
  • Who donates sperm in the UK? What are their professions?
  • Where will Britain import from after Brexit if it cannot import easily from Denmark?
  • What does the international sperm donation market look like? Which other countries export and import sperm donations?
  • What are the international laws and regulations on children contacting sperm donors once aged 18?

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