At last back on-line following four frustrating days whilst BT tracked down a fault with our internet. Returned from sunny La Gomera (delightful small island in the Canaries) to find UK gripped in even more bitter cold than when we had left. Daffs and blossom buds waiting to burst and me desperate to get out of cord trousers and jumpers, particularly having had a taste of shorts and T-shirts whilst we were away. Tan and orange toe nails hidden in layers, I’m back at the computer now facing a looming deadline for my booklets.
Browsing one of the Sunday supplements at the weekend I came across an article ostensibly by a man who became a sperm donor at an NHS clinic in 2010. I say ostensibly because the item is full of inaccuracies that made me wonder if this was something that had just been put together by a jobbing journalist who thought it would sound better written as a personal story. In fact this rings true, because the author does declare himself as a journalist interested in why at one point in 2010 there were apparently only 26 NHS sperm donors in the whole of Scotland. His ‘research’ led him to meet a couple, Alice and Mark “who were remarkably candid about trying for a baby through IVF”. Confusing donor insemination with IVF is a basic mistake that many journalists make but you wouldn’t think that someone who had actually talked with a couple requiring sperm donation would fall into this trap. With regard to conditions for donating he says that, “Doctors undertake a six month assessment of your family history for genetic conditions…..” as part of a rigorous health check. Well, yes, they do ask for a full family history and take blood for some tests for serious genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis but it is not this that takes six months. The six month period is quarantine for HIV infection, which was not mentioned at all. I think it is journalistic fantasy that has Alice and Mark considering ‘going off-road’ by using an internet service to provide fresh sperm. This was a possibility in 2010 but very rarely used by heterosexual couples. It would have been helpful to have it mentioned that this practice has now been outlawed, although it is possible to meet a potential donor via a website rather than going to a clinic.
It is sad that the clinic that ‘Andy’ attended seems to have given him the impression that very few parents tell their children that they are donor conceived and that an even smaller number of those children will seek to get in touch. The first of these assertions is just not true in the UK and the second remains unknown, since the first young people conceived with identifiable donors will not turn 18 until 2023. He also seemed to be under the impression that a system of ‘managed contact’ is already in place so there is no question of the surprise ‘knock on the door’. I wish I could be so confident about this. There is NOTHING in place at the moment, with all relevant authorities doing their best to put the onus for providing it on to someone else.
Having been told that only those with ‘super sperm’ get to be donors (and there is some truth in this because much sperm fails to recover well from freezing) Andy then declares that it was the HFEA who contacted him to let him know the good news that he had been accepted. The HFEA have never had anything to do with testing or accepting of donors; it would be the clinic that would have done this. Another reason for believing this man is making it up. He apparently then opted only to create four families (ten is the maximum) and not to allow his sperm to be used for single women. IF his story is true, I’m personally surprised the clinic decided to go ahead with him as with such restrictions their considerable investment in his testing etc. would hardly be worth it.
The final error is to state that he is now awaiting notification that his sperm has been put to use. This won’t happen. If he wants to know if a child has resulted from his donation he will have to apply to the clinic or HFEA to find out. But he doesn’t seem to want to know anyway.
Do any of these mistakes matter? It’s only a Sunday supp article, but if someone reading it was even considering donating sperm they may be put off by this man’s rather casual attitude…and anyway, it’s lazy journalism and I deplore that.