Donate and help a friend

images-2In an interesting move to increase the number of egg and sperm donors, one UK fertility clinic is offering anyone who donates the chance to nominate a friend or family member for a free cycle of IVF treatment. The clinic carried out a survey which found that the thing that motivated donors more than anything else was knowing someone who was having difficulty getting pregnant – so this scheme aims to capitalise on that by offering them the chance to help someone they know as well as someone they don’t!

The clinic, Bourn Hall, has set up a new website for anyone wanting to know more about becoming a donor and potential donors can visit any of the Bourn clinics near Cambridge and Norwich and in Colchester.

You can find out more about the project here 

Using an online sperm donor

DownloadedFile-17If you’ve ever thought about using an online sperm donor, this article may put you off…  It’s about a sperm donor called Simon Watson who advertises his services on Facebook and claims to have “about 800” genetic children, and says he wants to reach 1,000.

In the UK, donors who donate officially through clinics are limited to 10 families. Donors go through a fairly lengthy process which often involves counselling as well as screening for genetic diseases and sexually-transmitted infections. Their sperm is frozen for six months and the donor is re-tested before it is used to ensure that it is clear from potential infection. Any children conceived will be able to trace their donor once they reach the age of 18.

Of course, using an online donor like Simon Watson is cheaper but that’s hardly surprising as you aren’t getting the careful screening and checking process that happens in a licensed clinic. He apparently charges £50 for samples after meeting his customers at motorway service stations.

If you’re only thinking of using an unlicensed online donor because a clinic is expensive, I’d think again and perhaps try to cut back elsewhere. Is the choice of genetic parent of your future child really a place you want to be taking risks by saving money?

Archie Nolan – talking to children about donor conception

Congratulations to all at the Donor Conception Network on the exciting new children’s book they’ve commissioned and had published about being donor conceived. ‘Archie Nolan: Family Detective’ aims to tackle the issues young people may face around this, and is targeted at eight to twelve year olds.

You can read more about the book in an article in The Guardian here and you can buy the book direct from the Donor Conception Network. This is an excellent resource for children, and can help parents to talk about donor conception with their children.

 

Considering donor treatment?

If you’re considering using an egg or sperm donor, you should check out the National Gamete Donation Trust’s new website at www.ngdt.co.uk. The Trust does a lot of work to encourage more people to think about donating, so there’s lots of information there aimed at donors – but there’s also a wealth of information about egg, sperm and embryo donation for recipients. Ranging through practical, ethical and legal aspects of treatment, it’s well worth a look before you make any decisions.

What’s more, it’s a really easy-to-navigate and attractive website – well done to all at the National Gamete Donation Trust!

In Northern Ireland and thinking of donor treatment?

image001If you’re based in Northern Ireland, you may be interested in a one-day conference on donor treatment to be held in Belfast on 19 September at the Malone Lodge Hotel.

The conference is organised by Northern Ireland Fertility Counselling Service and it will be of interest to anyone considering donor treatment or those who are parents after donor treatment as well as anyone working in the field. A range of leading experts are speaking including Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from York University, Dr Petra Nordqvist from Manchester University, Rosetta Wotton from the HFEA,  Jane Ellis who is a trainer with the Donor Conception Network and the mother of donor-conceived adults, Danny Ruddock, another Donor Conception Network trainer and father of donor-conceived children and Kate Litwinczuk who is a Donor Conception Network member and was herself donor-conceived.

It promises to be a very interesting day – and you can find out more here 

Review – The Vikings are Coming

When, just minutes into this BBC Two documentary, the commentary told us that the shortages of donor sperm in the UK were due to the change in the law about donor anonymity, I was tempted to switch off. This old chestnut has been discounted by most experts in the field, and it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when you find it cropping up. But in fact, I was glad I stuck with the programme. This wasn’t a factual documentary about why women in the UK might be using imported donor sperm or about why some clinics here don’t have ready supplies of donors – and if you came to it looking for factual information, you would be disappointed. Instead, the programme focused on the stories of a number of single women and a lesbian couple who were trying to conceive using donor sperm.  Video diaries made up a lot of the footage, letting the women tell their own stories and charting the sadness and longing, the ups and downs of the fertility journey in a moving and engaging way.

There was also a section with interviews with some of the donors at a Danish sperm bank and with a donor-conceived young woman who explained how she felt about not being able to find out anything about her anonymous donor – but the issues arising from these were left hanging as the programme’s central focus was the experiences of the women who were trying to conceive.  They were using a variety of different ways to get pregnant from home insemination with sperm sent by courier to visits to a Danish fertility clinic or IVF at a private British centre – but the themes of repeated attempts, of money spent, of tears and heartache were the same.

The Twitter response to the programme was a testament to the women and to the empathetic story telling. Generally any item about people using IVF or donor gametes to get pregnant leads to a flurry of accusations of selfishness and the usual cries about why people don’t “just adopt” – but there was a welcome lack of that in the reaction to this programme which was largely sympathetic.

As the programme drew to an end, we were cheerfully told that one of the women who was opting for egg sharing had produced more than 40 follicles as if this were a great thing rather than an alarm bell for OHSS – and it sent me hurtling back to my initial reaction. The programme offered a moving insight into the feelings and emotions involved, but where it fell short was on informed context.

If you want to see for yourself, you can find the programme here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer.

The national sperm bank

So, we finally have a national sperm bank in the UK… Based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, this will be the world’s first independent sperm bank and it aims to address the shortage of donor sperm in the UK.

Although there have been increases in the number of sperm donors in recent years, the demand has been outstripping the supply – and we’re importing more and more donated sperm from overseas, mainly Denmark and the USA.

The sperm bank is a collaboration between the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) and Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and was set up with government funding. It is based within the NHS, and will eventually aim to deliver donor sperm to those who need it across the country.

Sue Avery, Director of Birmingham Women’s Fertility Centre, said: ‘There is currently a national shortage of sperm donors in the UK, especially in NHS clinics and particularly among some ethnic minorities. Patient numbers continue to rise and treating those who need donor sperm to build their families is a major problem. At present, some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few safe options and find themselves on waiting lists of up to five years or having to stop treatment altogether.’

Laura Witjens, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Gamete Donation Trust, says they want to change the way people think about sperm donation. ‘When people think of sperm donation they often only think about the physical act of producing sperm. Let’s face it that can be off-putting and detract from the real issues. We’re all set to change that outlook. Sperm donors are very special men who are doing something they and their families can be exceptionally proud of. These are men who are doing something life-changing for themselves and for others. It’s time to shout about how fantastic these guys are.’

If you are a man aged between 18 and 41 and you are interested in joining the ranks of these special men, you can text ‘Donor’ to 88802 for more information and visit www.veryspecialman.co.uk.

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Never let the facts get in the way of a good story…

This is for you if you’ve ever been alarmed by a fertility story in the Daily Mail – and after this I promise I will stop writing about Danish sperm for a while…

I was fascinated to read a piece in the Mail based on the programme I’ve been working on about Danish sperm as the person writing the article seemed to hear a different story to the one we told in our programme – and if you’ve ever been frightened or worried by an IVF scare story in the paper, it may give you food for thought.

Where to begin? Perhaps with the headline claiming “hundreds” of British women are giving birth to babies conceived with Danish donor sperm. Is that hundreds overall, or hundreds a year? It wasn’t a figure we mentioned, and seems to have been plucked from thin air.

We go on to a series of bullet points, where we learn that “Danish sperm now makes up a third of the total used in the UK”.  No, it doesn’t. It’s nothing remotely approaching a third of the total used in the UK. It’s a third of the IMPORTED sperm, which is something entirely different – but it sounds good, so let’s not worry about facts here.

We are told that “women” apparently cite the Danes good looks and dependable nature for the popularity of Danish sperm (the women concerned here were in fact Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Ruth Wilde of BICA talking in a professional capacity, but they’re both women aren’t they, so on we go…).  Then, with no relevance at all to anything, we are suddenly told that “famously handsome Danes include Nikolaj Coster-Waldaua” as if this has any relevance to anything. I am sure we could come up with some handsome UK actors, but would we list them in an article about UK donor sperm?

And so, the piece continues – we are again given the totally inaccurate fact that 1/3 of sperm used in the UK is Danish. It’s not. We didn’t say it was.  We then come to  the CEO of European Sperm Bank “chuckling” as she makes a comment – except it wasn’t Annemette Arndal-Lauritzen of European Sperm Bank speaking, it was Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust – but hey ho….

We are told that the change in the law concerning anonymity for sperm donors has “compounded” the sperm shortages for British clinics – in fact, Jane Stewart who spoke in the programme about this made it abundantly clear that people realised this was not the case.

The next paragraph concerns the use of anonymous donor sperm which was discussed at some length in the programme – BICA’s Ruth Wilde mentioned the fact that the other large Danish sperm bank Cryos imported anonymous donor sperm direct to people’s homes in the UK, and Juliet Tizzard of the HFEA talked about the grey area in the law concerning this.  According to the Mail, which clearly knows better than the HFEA or BICA, Cryos “cannot sell semen from anonymous donors to the UK”.

We then have a quote from BICA’s Ruth Wilde, who I suspect may be quite surprised to learn that she has become a “mother who conceived with the help of a Danish clinic”.

This is one story on one day that I happen to know quite a lot about, having done the interviews myself – so next time you read an IVF scare story, think of the errors here and take it with a large pinch of salt.

Do genes matter?

Nature or nurture? It’s one of those eternal questions – but one which has particular importance to anyone considering donor conception. The idea of passing on our genetic heritage is part of our expectations when it comes to parenthood, and finding out that you will only be able to get pregnant if you use donor eggs or sperm involves thinking again about some of those preconceptions.  But should it? Are genes really as important as we imagine?

I went to an event last week organised by Progress Educational Trust titled Do Genes Matter? There were presentations from leading fertility lawyer Natalie Gamble, from Pride Angel’s Erika Tranfield and Professor Carol Smart, a sociologist from Manchester University who has studied donor families. For me, some of the most thought-provoking ideas came from the geneticist on the panel, Professor Anneke Lucassen, who explained just how little of who we are comes from our genes. She showed that contrary to our beliefs, the variation in our genetic make-up is miniscule and that most of what we are is down to our environment rather than our genetic heritage – so choosing an Oxbridge-educated donor won’t impact on your child’s intelligence, but the environment in which he or she grows up will do.

Could it be that the way we think about genes is actually more folk culture than scientific reality? Are we all far too worried about the importance of genetic heritage when in fact it is largely irrelevant? What do you think? Do genes matter?

Have you had or are you considering donor treatment?

Another day, another survey…  This one is being carried out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and is aimed at anyone who has had donor treatment or is considering having donor treatment in the future. The HFEA wants to find out more about the sort of information you would like, were given, or would like to have been given, about donors.

Sometimes information can be limited, but you may get what is known as a pen portrait which is a description the donor has written about him or herself.  You may also get a message from the donor to any children who are born, which is called a goodwill message.

The HFEA is keen to find out why not all clinics are currently making this sort of information available to people who have donor treatment and so this patient survey aims to get an idea of your experiences and views.  Please do help with this if you have a spare five minutes as it will help others – you can find the survey here