Onselling of sperm
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Onselling of sperm is the practice of a sperm bank selling or otherwise trading or passing its surplus stocks of sperm for use by another entity. The practice is subject to the laws of particular jurisdictions involved in the trade. Sperm banks routinely collect and process sperms from sperm donors which they may use either in fertility treatments or onsell or otherwise pass on to another entity. The onselling may be part of, or even the main business of a particular sperm bank, or may arise where a sperm bank has collected and stored more sperm than it can use within nationally set limits. In the latter case a sperm bank may onsell or export the sperm from a particular donor that it can no longer use within the jurisdiction for use in another jurisdiction, subject to relevant laws.
Sperm may also be onsold for research or educational purposes, usually after the number of births from the donor concerned has reached the national legal maximum. Sperm may also be used for genetic and fertility testing, and for research into birth control.
United Kingdom situation
Prior to 2010, a United Kingdom sperm bank was able to onsell sperm provided that the national limit of ten families in the UK had not been achieved from the donor whose sperm was being exported. This meant, for example, that a sperm bank was able to recruit a donor and prepare samples for ICI, IUI and ART use from his donations. After 9 months it was able to release the 10 or so samples donated within the first 3 months, from 6 month quarantine (approximately 100 vials) and it used these to achieve 6 pregnancies (although more pregnancies could, of course, have been achieved from the number of vials prepared as illustrated). The sperm bank was then able to onsell sperm from that donor to sperm banks and clinics outside the UK and it could illustrate the fecundity of the various types of samples it sold from the pregnancy rates it had achieved in the UK. In accordance with General Directions issued by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) governing the export of gametes from the UK, the donor had to agree to the export and to the use of his donations abroad, and he must have been told that regulations for use abroad would vary and were likely to be different from the rules which applied in the UK. He must not have put a limit on the number of births which could have been achieved from his donations. Under the current regulations, individual clinics exporting sperm or onselling sperm donated in the UK are responsible for ensuring that the maximum number of ten births produced from each donor is not exceeded anywhere in the world; prior to 2010 UK clinics could export any quantity of an individual's sperm samples without the consent of the HFEA provided that the donor had consented generally to export and had not imposed a limit on the number of children born from his sperm.
Some UK sperm banks used the export of sperm as a way of exchange with sperm banks abroad, and imported sperm vials to increase their pool of donors.
The regulations introduced in April 2010 were intended to ensure that no more than ten families are produced from each donor, regardless of where this occurs. Before this time, some men donated for periods in excess of two years (some for even four or five years) and vials of their sperm were exported without limitation provided that not more than ten families had been produced from their samples in the UK at the time of the export. Donors with particular blood groups or with sperm which produced higher than average pregnancy rates were sometimes offered the opportunity to donate for such prolonged periods. Although this gave rise to considerable numbers of offspring from such donors, local rules applied where the treatments were carried out and there was probably only a low risk of consanguinity. Donors who donated over such periods of time were also aware that their sperm would be used to create numerous offspring. An example of an organization which on-sold sperm to clinics abroad was the British Pregnancy Advisory Service BPAS.
However, this lead to the UK importing large amounts of sperm from abroad to cover the domestic shortage which lead to an inconsistency in the way regulations were applied. Conditions applied to the importation, including a provision that a donor whose sperm is imported from outside the UK should not be used to create more than ten families within the UK. This produced the anomaly that overseas donors could be used to create more than ten families world wide, whereas UK donors could only be used to create a total of ten families anywhere in the world. In addition, the HFEA's provisions about the payment and recruitment of donors cannot not, of course, apply outside the UK. There was also a question of enforcement.
UK Sperm banks are therefore permitted to export donor sperm, subject, where exports are within the EU, to the EU Tissues Directive and subject to the sperm banks obtaining the consent of donors even where the donor has been responsible for producing the maximum UK number of ten families . Sperm banks may also store and use sperm for periods in excess of ten years. The combination of these changes enables sperm banks to export sperm and, subject to their obtaining consent to import samples, they may exchange straws with other fertility centres.
Embryos may also be onsold. These are usually spare embryos which are created through IVF treatment where a woman achieves the number of pregnancies she requires and the resulting embryos may therefore be disposed of. Donor sperm (and donor eggs) may be used in IVF treatments, and as many as eighteen eggs may be fertilized using one vial of donor sperm, although only the most viable of these will be subsequently implanted in a woman in an attempt to achieve a pregnancy. In the case of the UK, the consent of the donors of both the egg and the sperm which were used to create the embryo must be obtained.
Onselling is normally only appropriate where the donor remains anonymous. Sperm banks purchasing sperm samples may in turn onsell these to other sperm banks and often engage in the process of exchanging samples with other sperm banks. This is a common practice which enables sperm banks to offer a wider variety of donors, as well as to onsell samples from donors who have reached the maximum permitted number of offspring imposed by, or on, that clinic. Onselling may therefore give rise to numerous pregnancies being produced from individual donors which can sometimes total 100 or more (see above 'Limitation' and the associated link) particularly where a sperm donor donates his sperm for a period of two years or more and where his samples are prepared for IVF use. Sperm from certain donors, such as those with particular blood groups, physical features or intellect, may also be more in demand than sperm from other donors. However, in every case rules as to use and the limitation on the number of pregnancies which apply locally will reduce the risk of consanguinity. The lack of overall records as to use and success will mean that the numbers of pregnancies achieved from the samples of an individual donor will not exist and the donor will not be at risk of knowing the large number of births that were produced from the samples he donated.
- HFEA information for donors