Should regulations be tightened for importing sperm…and musings on surrogacy

Over the last couple of days there have been two surrogacy stories in the daily papers I come across.  One, essentially benign, involving egg donation but with potential issues about boundaries and telling, and the other frankly shocking.  The latter, reported in The Guardian as un-sensationally as is possible in such an extreme case, concerns a woman who forced her 14 year old adopted daughter to inseminate herself with donor sperm until she became pregnant.  Her apparent reason for this appalling coercive behaviour, for which she is now serving a five year jail sentence, is that she was distraught at having been refused permission to adopt a fourth baby.  Her daughter, having probably miscarried at 14, eventually gave birth age 16.  The authorities were alerted when midwives were alarmed at the mother’s pushy and insensitive behaviour, trying to prevent her daughter breastfeeding the newborn, saying, “we don’t want any of that attachment thing.”

How did the mother get hold of the donor sperm?  At first semen was provided by a donor who came to the house but latterly it was acquired from Cryos International, the huge sperm bank in Denmark.  Most sperm banks will only export semen to doctors or fertility clinics, not to individuals.  Cryos has always flouted this convention.  I am aware that Cryos has long been exporting unofficially to the UK as, before I was thrown off Fertility Friends, I monitored a thread where single women were talking about importing sperm for personal use.  There was a debate about how risky it was to do this as customs had confiscated one woman’s parcel, but another said that hers had got through.

Horrific cases like the one reported today are going to be rare, but it seems important for other reasons as well that imports like this should come under closer scrutiny.  UK regulations are clear about the type of donors whose semen can be imported into this country.  Like UK donors they must agree to be identifiable to children at age 18 and not be paid more than expenses.  Their names will appear on the HFEA register.  However, it is unclear that if semen is bypassing the official import system to clinics, whether the rules on identifiability are also being ignored.  The details of these donors are unlikely to appear on the HFEA register so a parent or young person in the future would have to rely on contact with Cryos for further information.  Whatever the situation, it would certainly appear that the HFEA should be investigating the loophole that seems to allow individuals in the UK to import from Cryos…whether this exists in the system of regulation or in the vigilance of customs officers.

The other surrogacy story was in the Sunday Times Mag. and took the form of the diary of a woman of 48 who carried a baby for her brother and his wife.  The IVF took place in Greece using a local egg donor.  Chillingly, when offered endless embryos to transfer, the surrogate said that she would accept selective reduction if necessary and went on to have three embryos put back.  Thank goodness she only became pregnant with two.  The diary goes on to give us a good insight into the complex emotions involved in carrying a baby for someone else whilst continuing to be a parent to ones own children who, of course, have to told that the babies in mummy’s tummy are for someone else.  At the end of the pregnancy pre-eclampsia leads to an emergency caesarian section.  Giving up the babies is tough and there is a lot of crying.  The surrogate, who has remained anonymous throughout the story, is close to the children, to whom she is both aunt and surrogate mother but nowhere is there any discussion of what the babes are going to be told.  And if they are to know of her role as ‘tummy mummy’, as seems likely, will be they told about the Greek egg donor as well?  As with single women, when an egg as well as a sperm donor is involved, the egg donation part in surrogacy seems much harder to talk about.  DC Network is beginning to get enquiries from couples where both surrogacy and egg donation have been contributors to family formation.  I think the organisation is going to have to think hard about what it can offer these families.  Oh dear, I can feel another publication coming on…..


About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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5 Responses to Should regulations be tightened for importing sperm…and musings on surrogacy

  1. Not ‘Oh Dear another publication’… a recognition that DC Network create exceptional publications that respond to members needs in sharing information about conception, that are respected and valued by professionals as well as parents… and children!

    Single women using donor eggs and donor sperm and surrogacy with donor eggs all appear to be increasing and it’s great to see that those embracing these options as a way to parent are also aware of the DC Network and the valuable services available.

    I’m delighted to see you’re being contacted 🙂 it means people are aware of you and the great work you all do! Well done


  2. Kriss Fearon says:

    I was sad to read in the second article that the surrogate was discouraged from trying to find info about the egg donor for the babies. But while I’ve heard this held up as an example of why not to become a surrogate it seems like, overall, a good experience to me. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for family, and to me the tears, tension and getting over it afterwards all sound like normal healthy reactions – perhaps I’m wrong here but it’s such a difficult thing to go through, the fact that it is tough and painful sometimes doesn’t make it a bad decision.

  3. oliviasview says:

    Completely agree Kriss. It was only the lack of about comment about who would know what that worried me. Otherwise, like you, I think it was helpful to write about a real experience, including all the difficult times.

  4. frances says:

    Hi , we are doing surrogacy and also using donor egg, we are expecting twins in march, i intend telling the babies everything from a young age, but im finding it difficult figuring out how to tell my extended family about the donor issue, they are very obsessed on this fact and refer to this issue in a very closed minded view when it is mentioned, i dont think they will accept our babies if they are told ,i just dont know what to do, perhaps tell them in a year or so after they grow to love them, i think its other people who get more hung up on dna and not us ladies requiring it.

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Frances
      If you read my latest blog about relatives you will see that you are not the only one whose relatives find issues to do with donation difficult…at least to start with. You have been on a journey that they (I assume) have not shared and so they need time to catch up with your knowledge and understanding. Of course you know your family best, but I would say share the information with them now in a confident but low-key, matter of fact way so that they have time before the babes are born to integrate the whole idea into their understanding. If you leave telling them till later then (like donor conceived adults) they can feel upset because they feel they have been deceived. It is a rare grandparent or aunt who is not won round by a baby.
      Do join DC Network for more support.

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