Sperm could be harvested from dead men to ease donation crisis, say British doctors

Men should be allowed to donate sperm alongside their organs and other body parts, after they have died, doctors have said.

There is currently a huge shortage of sperm donors in Britain, and the UK needs to import semen from countries such as Denmark, which ships around 3,000 samples each year and the US which sends 4,000.

Now, two doctors, writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics have called for men to be able to donate their sperm at death.

As well as helping with the shortage, they argue it would bring comfort to those who have not fathered children in their lives. It may also help ease the grief of family members if they think a loved one is ‘living on’ genetically.

Writing in the journal, Dr Nathan Hodson, of the College of Life Sciences at the University of Leicester, and Dr Joshua Parker, of Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, said “The ability to reproduce matters to people and donated sperm enables many people to fulfil their reproductive desires.

“Limitations in numbers and variety of donors have consequences for individuals and couples who require donor sperm.

“Many people hope that after death their bodies will be used to benefit others. It is both feasible and morally permissible for men to volunteer their sperm to be donated to strangers after death in order to ensure sufficient quantities of sperm with desired qualities.”

Unlike women who are born with their eggs, sperm is continually renewed, which is why men are able to father children far later.

Recent developments in which women have successfully used the semen of dead partners to become pregnant, has proven that sperm is viable for up to 48 hours after death.

After death, it can be collected either through electrical stimulation of the prostate gland or surgery, and then frozen until required.

However, commenting on the article Prof Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology, at the University of Sheffield, said he strongly disagreed with the idea saying it felt like ‘backward’ step when society had moved so far towards uniting sperm donors with their children.

He said: “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.”

There are around 2200 donor insemination treatment cycles annually in Britain. Some 42 per cent of the women registering have a male partner, 41 per cent have a female partner and 17 per cent are single.

The doctors accept that people may think infertility is not life-threatening enough to warrant sperm donation after death, but they argue that other transplant, such as corneas, are also not strictly necessary but are hugely beneficial.

“Infertility certainly causes suffering, some of which can be ameliorated by access to donor sperm,” they wrote.

“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, which may or may not also be considered a disease.”
The authors also argue that sperm donation after death would also help to increase the diversity of supply, which can be a particular issue for certain ethnicities, as donors are predominantly white.

And concerns about the possible transmission of ‘unhealthy’ genes can be addressed by carrying out health checks on the donor and the sperm, say the authors.

Recently the Telegraph revealed that just 17 British sperm donors had fathered more than 500 children between, leading fears that men could be unknowingly passing defective DNA to dozens of youngsters, because currently donors are not screened for faulty genes.

It also raises the risk that siblings could unexpectedly meet and form relationships without realising they are related.

Commenting on the opinion piece, Sarah Norcross, Director, Progress Educational Trust (PET), said: “The question of whether sperm should be added to the list of tissues donated after death is a challenging one.

“Further discussion is needed to understand whether people who need to use donor sperm would even want to use the sperm of a deceased donor.

“It is also vital to seek the opinions of donor-conceived people about what they think the impact would be of never being able to meet the donor.”

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