Fewer than one in 20 men who applied to become sperm donors in the USA and Denmark in 2018 and 2019, were accepted by a sperm bank, a recent study has shown.
The number of sperm-donor-conceived children born in the UK has tripled in the past 13 years in the UK, meaning demand for sperm donors outstrips supply. Recent figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show half of donor sperm used in the UK is imported, often from Denmark (see BioNews 1170). In a study published in Human Reproduction of over 11,000 men who applied to be sperm donors to the sperm and egg bank Cryos in the USA and Denmark, researchers looked at the points in the application process men dropped out or were rejected by the clinic. They also looked at the impact of being asked to waive anonymity on willingness to donate and acceptance.
Lead author – and Progress Educational Trust (PET) trustee – Professor Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield, pointed out that although sperm donors can choose to retain their anonymity in the USA and Denmark (though not the UK since 2006), over a quarter of donors shifted from an initial decision to remain anonymous, to be identifiable, over the course of the donation process. He said: 'What's particularly fascinating is that more donors, who initially wanted to remain anonymous, were willing to be identifiable as the screening and donation process continued. This is particularly good news for patients in the UK undergoing fertility treatment, as it is a legal requirement for sperm donors to be identifiable to any children born from their donations.'
Around half of applicants dropped out or were rejected before being invited to provide a sperm sample, for the second stage of the application process, researchers found. Of the men who provided a sample 21 percent did not have a high enough quality semen, according to the clinic. Of men accepted after semen analysis and invited to complete a medical questionnaire, just 18 percent continued to the next stage.
A report published by PET in June 2022 Fertility, Genomics and Embryo Research: Public Attitudes and Understanding showed that 64 percent of the UK public would consider sperm or egg donation with identity release (see BioNews 1148).
Professor Pacey said: 'In the UK you can only become a donor if you agreed to be identifiable and there simply aren't enough guys in the UK that are willing to do that, or we haven't managed to tempt them enough, because we haven't got an advertising system that targets them.'
He went on: 'The study with Cryos highlights how hard it is to become a sperm donor. It's not like blood donation where once it's done you can have a cup of tea and go home. Sperm donation is a regular commitment with lots of screening and regular testing as well as life-long implications for the donor if any children are born from their sample.'