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Government launches fertility campaign

A new government campaign has been launched to encourage men to donate sperm and women to donate eggs to infertile couples.

A new government campaign has been launched to encourage men to donate sperm and women to donate eggs to infertile couples. Give Life, Give Hope, launched by the health minister Melanie Johnson, is a marker of how far society has moved regarding the acceptability of one person sharing genetic material with a total stranger to create a child they may never meet.

"This campaign will raise awareness of the huge benefits that donation can bring to those with fertility problems," said Ms Johnson. "As well as boosting the number of egg and sperm donors we want to encourage people to see the value of donating and to realise what it really means to the recipients - that they are giving families hope and the possibility of a new life."

The trigger for the campaign is a change in the law, which will allow children born from donor eggs or sperm to know the identity of their biological parent when they reach 18. It had been feared that the supply of donors would dry up.

At present, 250 men donate sperm each year and 1,100 women donate eggs, sometimes in return for a reduction in the costs of their own fertility treatment.

The campaign will be aimed at men aged 28 to 45 and women aged 28 to 35. Ninety-five fertility clinics will distribute posters, leaflets and details about the National Gamete Donation Trust. Ms Johnson said she hoped that this move would dispel the myths around egg and sperm donation and also "seek to assure donors that they will have no financial or legal responsibilities to any related offspring, either now or in 18 years' time".

Research for the campaign suggests that more people than might be thought would be willing donors. About 44 per cent of those asked showed positive attitudes towards donation; 12 per cent of respondents said they "would definitely" consider donating, and 31 per cent said they "may consider" donating.

Laura Witjens, chairwoman of the National Gamete Donation Trust, said: "Although donating egg and sperm is a very personal decision it is very encouraging to see from this research that there is potentially a much wider pool of people willing to donate than we might have expected."

But Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said that the removal of donor anonymity had not been properly thought through. "The government embarked on this policy in the face of well-founded fears from fertility clinics that there would be a shortage of donors and without providing any proper evidence of benefit to people 18 years down the line.

"The experience of other countries strongly suggests that loss of anonymity will lead to more secrecy as parents won't tell their children they are donor conceived, and patients will resort to unregulated insemination suppliers."

2nd September 2008

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