Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Should deceased donors be allowed to donate sperm?

Deceased donor sperm donation is the subject of an article earlier this year, in light of the shortage of donated sperm in the UK:

Hodson N, Parker J. "The ethical case for non-directed postmortem sperm donation,"
Journal of Medical Ethics 2020;46:489-492.

Abstract: In this article we outline and defend the concept of voluntary non-directed postmortem sperm donation. This approach offers a potential means of increasing the quantity and heterogeneity of donor sperm. This is pertinent given the present context of a donor sperm shortage in the UK. Beyond making the case that it is technically feasible for dead men to donate their sperm for use in reproduction, we argue that this is ethically permissible. The inability to access donor sperm and the suffering this causes, we argue, justifies allowing access to sperm donated after death. Moreover, it is known that individuals and couples have desires for certain sperm donor characteristics which may not be fulfilled when numbers of sperm donors are low. Enacting these preferences contributes significantly to the well-being of intended parents, so we argue that this provides a pro tanto reason for respecting them. Finally, we explore the benefits and possible disadvantages of such a system for the various parties affected.

"The United Kingdom (UK) has a shortage of donor sperm. In 2016 there were 2273 donor insemination treatment cycles; 42% of the women registering had a male partner, 41% had a female partner and 17% were single.1 The average number of newly registered sperm donors per year between 2011 and 2013 was 586, an increase from 2004 where there were 237 donors.2 Yet this increase includes donations for specific use by a known individual to create one offspring. In 2016 the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) reported 4306 in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment cycles with ‘own eggs and donor sperm’ and 924 treatment cycles with ‘donor egg and donor sperm’.1 Clearly there is high demand for donor sperm and HFEA reports demonstrate this is increasing.1

"Commercial imports have been the mainstay of UK efforts to keep up with increasing demand for donor sperm.1 The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that 4000 samples were imported from the USA and 3000 from Denmark in addition to samples from other European Union (EU) countries.3 The HFEA highlights that imports are used to plug the gap because "the cost, time and resources required to recruit donors themselves is too high when there are specialist sperm banks who can carry out an efficient and reliable service".4 The Department of Health and Social Care has raised concerns that the UK's departure from the EU may worsen this state of affairs.3
"There are barriers to donating sperm in life that may prevent some men acting on their desire to help others or see their genes continue into future generations through donation. Posthumous sperm donation avoids most of these problems, allowing men to access the positives of sperm donation without the drawbacks. Living kidney donation provides an informative comparison between the motivations to donate in life versus after death. It is difficult to overestimate the value of donated kidneys to those individuals on the transplant list. Many people feel the pull of altruism and have a desire to help those who need a kidney transplant. Yet the potential costs of donating during life mean that individuals would rather donate after death when those costs are eliminated.16 Gamete donation after death parallels kidney donation by offering the same benefits as donation in life with fewer drawbacks, thereby both incentivising men to donate and providing greater opportunity to fulfil some of their reproductive and altruistic desires. This makes voluntary postmortem sperm donation an attractive addition to living donation.
"Given the potential impact of postmortem sperm donation on the family, policy decisions could be used to soften the implications of postmortem sperm donation for the family. For our purposes, the important point is that considerations of the family, including a romantic partner surviving the deceased man, do not justify a blanket ban on the use of sperm collected after death, especially if the donor has specified a desire to donate.
"The UK consensus is that gametes ought not to be bought although donor expenses should be covered.37 We do not take a view on this generally, but note the dissonance generated when sperm from countries such as Denmark where ‘vendors’ have been paid is used in the UK.38 In so far as society benefits from a coherent bioethical policy reflecting its shared values, using dead donors rather than donors who were paid in other countries to bolster supplies might provide a more coherent policy.

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