Sperm donations taken from men after they have died should be allowed, a study says.
The analysis, which is published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, claims that opt-in post-death donations could be a “morally permissible” way of increasing the stocks available.
In 2017 in the UK, 2,345 babies were born after a sperm donation.
However, there is a growing shortage of donations around the country because of strict regulations.
Sperm can be collected after death either through electrical stimulation of the prostate gland or surgery, and can then be frozen.
Evidence suggests that sperm harvested from men who have died can still result in viable pregnancies and healthy children, even when retrieved up to 48 hours after death has occurred.
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In the analysis, Dr Nathan Hodson, from the University of Leicester, and Dr Joshua Parker, from Manchester’s Wythenshawe Hospital, argue that such a method falls into similar territory to organ donation.
“If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in ‘life-enhancing transplants’ for diseases, we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility,” they said.
However, it could raise questions about consent and family veto, and there are concerns about the integrity surrounding the anonymity of the donor, they added.
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In 2014, a national sperm bank serving the UK opened in Birmingham with a government grant of £77,000.
Less than two years later, the bank had closed its doors and stopped recruiting donors. Only nine signed up after its launch, with one of those later dropping out.
Since 2005, the law says that sperm donors in the UK must agree that any children born from their donations can contact them when they turn 18.
Former donor Jeffrey Ingold, from London, told the BBC that he believes that allowing donations after death could persuade more men to consider becoming donors.
“I do not see how introducing a system that makes sperm donation similar to organ donation could be anything other than a good thing,” he said. “For me, donating sperm was never about my own genes or anything like that, but it was about helping friends in need.
“I also think that having this kind of process might go some way in challenging the stigma or preconceived ideas society has about sperm donation.”
He added: “If people knew more about the process and were able to make more informed decisions about whether to become a sperm donor, I think we’d see a lot more people opting in to doing so.”
Image caption Jeffrey Ingold believes the spread of misinformation is stopping men from becoming donors
However, Prof Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, argued it would be a “step backward” in the donation process.
“I’d much rather that we invested our energy in trying to recruit younger, healthy, willing donors who stand a good chance of being alive when the donor-conceived person starts to become curious about them, and would have the opportunity to make contact with them without the aid of a spiritualist.”
In 1997, a woman won the right to be allowed to use her dead husband’s sperm.
Stephen Blood caught meningitis in February 1995, two months after trying to start a family with his wife Diane.
He lapsed into a coma and died before agreeing in writing for his sperm to be used, although two samples had been removed at Mrs Blood’s request.
The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act banned Mrs Blood from using her husband’s sperm without his written consent.
However, the Court of Appeal later ruled Mrs Blood should be allowed to seek fertility treatment within the European Community but not in the UK.
Mrs Blood gave birth to her son Joel – using her husband’s frozen sperm – in 2002, and the following year she won a legal battle to have her late partner legally recognised as the father.