At last it seems as if there is a shift to understanding that increasing donor recruitment in the UK means changing the culture to one where sperm, as well as egg donors, are treated with respect. And as Kriss Fearon, in her Commentary in this week’s Bio News says, “Some of the most persuasive advocates for egg and sperm donation are donors.” In order to move from what Kriss (a former egg donor) calls ‘anecdata’ about ways of recruiting donors that involve treating donors better, the National Gamete Donation Trust http://www.ngdt.co.uk is undertaking a survey of donors and enquirers about donating that will be analysed by Dr Laura Machin of Lancaster University. In this way NGDT hopes to provide solid evidence that can inform practical recommendations to improve donor care.
What has yet to make it through the smoke-screen of lazy journalism is that there isn’t actually a shortage of sperm donors in the UK and that egg donation is much more widely available, mostly via egg sharing schemes, than many clinics would have would-be recipients believe. Unfortunately the widespread media myth of donor shortages has encouraged and supported the growth of internet-based ‘services’ where those needing donor eggs or sperm can meet potential donors. Those offering eggs in this way are likely to be seeking payment. This is illegal in the UK, but for those who feel they have no other option than to find a donor this way, illegality is no barrier. Some men offering sperm do seem to be doing so for reasons approaching altruism, but many others seem simply to be seeking the ego boost of being able to make a woman pregnant without any responsibility and others are seeking a backdoor to multiple sexual encounters – or NI (natural insemination) as it is coyly termed on the boards. We need these myths to be countered strongly with facts and real information and it is possible that this may happen via a documentary hoping to expose the sleazy side of unregulated sperm donation, currently being researched by a TV company and supported by NGDT and DCN.
We definitely do need better donor care and a well-funded and consistent campaign to attract a good supply of donors and to give recipients a wider choice, but first of all we need better utilisation of sperm from current male donors. Shocking figures that emerged during the recent HFEA consultation showed that for many current donors only one or two families were being created, when the maximum possible is 10.
The NGDT survey is linked from the home page of their web site http://www.ngdt.co.uk/donor survey. Anyone who is a current or former donor or interested in the possibility of donating can take part…please do if this description fits you. As Kris Fearon reminds us, “Donors are not a silent partner in the journey to create a family – they don’t appear from nowhere and disappear into the ether never to be seen again. They talk about their decision with family and friends. They give interviews to the media. They can given potential donors the lowdown on what it’s really like. When donors are treated with care and feel valued, they are more likely to donate again and to encourage others to donate. Respect matters.”