Would you like to work for the National Gamete Donation Trust?

3049_ngdt_logo_rgb_2016_05_24_11_07_41_am-190x78.jpgThe National Gamete Donation Trust is looking for a new National Coordinator who will be responsible for the day to day management of the charity. It sounds a fascinating job for anyone interested in the fertility field, and you would be the first port of call for many different people and organisations and discussions are often of a sensitive and confidential nature.

It is a part-time role (30 hours a week) working from home, and involves flexible working and attending some meetings with trustees and stakeholders. The meetings are mostly in central London, Birmingham and the South East, so you should ideally be located within easy reach of these. You can find more details about the job and how to apply here 

BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire covers unlicensed sperm donation

I don’t need to say anything about this feature with an unlicensed sperm donor who is joined by Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust and Peter Thompson of the HFEA on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. If you’ve thought of using an online donor, please just watch it….


Should patients be able to travel abroad for treatment?

104px-GEO_GlobeThere’s a really interesting article here asking whether patients should be allowed to travel overseas for fertility treatment to a country which has different rules and regulations from those at home. We just assume that patients have the right to go wherever they want and do whatever they want, but this article is based on a  report in European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology which considers the idea that there are moral issues for doctors in supporting patients who want to travel abroad to avoid the laws in their own countries.

Apparently in 2012 the French Health Ministry sent out a warning to doctors that informing patients about egg donation overseas would carry a risk of five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 Euros because of concerns about human eggs being bought and sold – and in Germany and Turkey they have also had penalties for doctors referring patients overseas for certain treatments.

You can find the report itself, from the European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Reproductive Biology here, which argues that governments should be tolerant to patients who wish to travel for treatment and suggests that their doctors who refer them are trying to act in their best interests. However, the article from Fox News quotes a Japanese health researcher from  Kanazawa University in Japan called Yuri Hibino who says that in Japan some hospitals are so worried by the risks of egg donation abroad, which can include multiple pregnancies and older mothers, that they won’t deliver babies conceived by egg donation.


What do you think? Should there be restrictions on treatment overseas? Or would that be a step too far and an interference with personal liberties? And what about doctors who refer patients overseas? It’s certainly an interesting issue…

Why don’t we just adopt…

I’ve had lots of positive feedback about the Radio Four programme I presented on the National Sperm Bank, but also some inevitable emails from people who don’t agree with sperm donation, or probably any kind of fertility treatment to be honest. These emails tend to follow a familiar theme and at some point will always berate the “selfishness” of couples with fertility problems who could “just adopt”.

I have never been able to understand why it is selfish to have treatment because you have a perfectly natural desire to have a child – it’s not a term we’d ever use to label parents who have conceived naturally, so why does the motivation change if you need help to get pregnant? If you are going to say it’s selfish to have treatment to help you to conceive, then it’s surely no less selfish to conceive any other way…

The “why don’t you just adopt” folk often talk about adoption as if it were as simple as going out and doing your weekly supermarket shop. They seem to assume that all that is involved is sticking any child with any parent and off everyone goes to live happily ever after. In reality, adoption is about finding the right home for a child who may have complex needs. Of course, there are many people who can’t conceive naturally who do go on to adopt happily and successfully, but it’s not a solution for every couple with fertility problems in just the same way that it’s not for every couple without fertility problems.

I suppose it’s good that people want to air their views about these issues, but sometimes I wish the “I don’t agree with sperm donation” emails would be a little less predictable and a little more thoughtful.

Why a clinic is the best place to find a sperm donor…

If you need to use a sperm donor, and have ever thought that maybe it would be cheaper and easier to find one online than to use a registered clinic, you should listen to this Radio Four programme titled ‘Desperately Seeking Sperm’ and presented by Jolyon Jenkins.

It exposes a strange world where recipients seek out donors online, and where the donors compete with one another to try to produce the most children. These donors are unscreened for sexually transmitted infections or for hereditary conditions, and some insist on “natural insemination”. There was the donor who kept it a secret from his wife, the donor who claimed his sperm was so potent he could get women on the pill pregnant – despite their suggestions that their motives were altruistic, it certainly didn’t feel that way.

Of course, there are also longer term legal implications about using a donor you’ve found online men who donate through clinics are not legally or financially responsible for any child conceived through their donations. This doesn’t apply to men who donate through these online networks, and if a donor opts for natural insemination, he is always the legal father of the child concerned.

If you’ve ever had any doubts about using a donor from a fertility clinic, this programme may be enough to change your mind..

First ever national sperm bank for the UK

images-2Fabulous news from the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) that they have been awarded funding from the Department of Health to set up the UK’s first ever National Sperm Bank in partnership with Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

The National Sperm Bank, to be based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, with spokes across England, will be offering an NHS based service. There is currently a national shortage of sperm donors in the UK, especially in NHS clinics. Patient numbers continue to rise and treating those who need donor sperm is a major problem. At present, some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few options and find themselves on waiting lists, having to use unregulated providers or having to stop treatment altogether.

It is hoped that the introduction of the National Sperm Bank will provide safe, equitable and increased access for all. It is also anticipated that it will reduce the number of patients putting themselves at risk by using unregulated sperm donation services. Additionally, it is hoped that for the first time, those from ethnic minority backgrounds will be able to choose from a range of donors. The National Sperm Bank will launch in October 2014.


Why are we using Danish sperm donors?

p021bb47You may be interested in a programme I’ve been working on for BBC Radio Four about our increasing use of Danish sperm donors which will be broadcast tomorrow morning at 11 am.

The New Viking Invasion considers the rapid increase in imports of donor sperm from Denmark in recent years, and looks at why this has happened. It’s partly down to the efficient system the Danes offer, but also due to our system in the UK where fertility clinics don’t always have the time or resources to recruit their own donors. Only one in every twenty men who turns up offering to donate will be suitable, and the process of screening donors can be lengthy and costly. In Denmark, they have dedicated sperm banks which don’t do anything else.

Of course, some UK clinics do have donors – but you may not discover that if you don’t happen to go to the right place. Clinics don’t necessarily to want to refer their patients to other clinics – suggesting using a Danish donor is often easier and it means they keep the patient. One couple who feature in the programme had been told they could face a ten year wait for a UK donor – in fact, they later found one without a wait at another UK clinic.

We visited European Sperm Bank in Copenhagen for the programme and spoke to staff and to donors to find out why their system works so well, and spoke to many leading experts in the UK to discuss their views and concerns about our increasing use of Danish donors. You can hear the thoughts of Dr Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society, Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust, Ruth Wilde of BICA, Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Juliet Tizzard of the HFEA along with consultants Jane Stewart from Newcastle and Mark Hamilton from Aberdeen in the programme – as well as Danish donors and UK recipients.

“The New Viking Invasion” produced by Steve Urquhart will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 27th June at 11am


Not a book to read on the train…

ltmd-bookWhen I got my copy of Letters to my Donor from the National Gamete Donation Trust, I was about to leave the house to go to a meeting  – so I put it in my bag to read on the tube. It’s a compilation of letters from parents of donor-conceived children to the donors who helped them to have their children. Most have never met the people whose generosity enabled them to conceive, and I was only a couple of letters in when I found myself sitting in a crowded tube train with tears streaming down my cheeks and getting some slightly odd looks from other passengers.

It’s an incredibly moving book – for the parents, the opportunity to thank someone for a gift which has transformed their lives is overwhelming and many begin by noting that words can’t begin to explain how grateful they are for the chance to have a family. There are letters from people who’ve used egg donors, sperm donors and one from a couple who used a surrogate. The letters show the delight that the parents take in their children and the happiness that the donor has brought into their lives.

There are also a few letters from donors themselves, explaining why they donated which may be an inspiration to anyone considering donating.

Of course this book will be of great interest to anyone who has some experience of donor conception, but I think it’s something anyone can learn from and gives a unique insight into the immense joy that a donor can bring to someone else’s life.

You can buy Letters to my Donor via the Gamete Donation Trust website at www.ngdt.co.uk where you will also find lots of useful information about gamete donation – but as I said, maybe not a book to read on the train…

Sperm donors – getting it right…

You could be forgiven for being confused by a recent article in the Telegraph titled The Private Lives of Sperm Donors which looked at the “real men” who chose to donate sperm – I certainly was.

I thought the article was going to be a serious exploration of the reality of sperm donation, but realised something wasn’t right when I got to the description of a man who decided to “eschew the anonymity provided by sperm clinics” (In fact, donating through a clinic is not “anonymous” as the piece repeatedly claims – all donors who go through clinics in the UK have to agree that identifying details will be made available to potential children once they are adults).  This chap apparently felt clinics were too impersonal and wanted to get to know people he was donating to through online chat forums. He liked doing it this way because it allowed him to decide (over a short meeting in a cafe) whether the couple concerned would make “fit parents”…

Alarmingly, the piece then went on to describe a catalogue of experiences from men who were donating privately which had led them to conclude that couples would not be “fit parents” with stories of men climbing out of windows to escape “psychos” and being threatened with knives for asking too many questions.  (I’ve met many dozens, in fact probably hundreds, of people who’ve used donor sperm over the years and can safely say I have not come across any “psychos” or people who would be whipping out knives.  The whole thing sounds hugely unlikely to me, and I can’t help wondering whether there may have been some tall tales told here under the veil of anonymity, but if it were true, it would only serve to highlight the risks of not using licensed clinics.)

These donors were all portrayed as generous fellows who weren’t interested in money, and one, who had allegedly fathered over 100 children, asked recipients to keep in touch with him so he could make sure the children didn’t get romantically involved with one another as they grew older. (Rules in the UK limit the number of children any one donor can father, so a case like this would never, ever occur at a licensed clinic but the piece didn’t mention that.)

These men had, according to the article, found “approaches to sperm donation that worked for them”. Whether these approaches were safe, sensible or legal was not up for discussion.

The piece went on to talk about the “legal minefield” that donors faced (there is no “legal minefield” for men who donate through clinics) and the fact that a “landmark case” where a donor had been ordered to pay maintenance had led many to decide to donate privately so that government-approved clinics didn’t have their details. (The “landmark case” had only come about because the donation was made privately through a website so this has no relevance whatsoever to clinics keeping men’s details and it is private donors who may put themselves at risk of being chased for maintenance by the Child Support Agency, not those using clinics).

It’s a shame that the article failed to discriminate between private donation and licensed clinics in any meaningful way.  There  was no mention of any of the risks of using donor sperm from someone you meet on the Internet, no mention of any of these generous donors having checks for sexually-transmitted infections, for HIV or for any hereditary genetic conditions, no suggestion as to why clinics might be a safer choice for both donor and recipient.

Perhaps it was a useful in that it highlighted the danger for those who don’t research the risks of private donation, but probably not in the way it intended.