Fertility doctor says overseas sperm could help desperate Kiwi parents
A leading fertility clinic is looking at ways to deal with strict controls on sperm and egg donations, in an effort to address a bulging waiting list for assisted reproduction treatments.
That includes the possibility of importing sperm and egg from overseas, despite restrictions set out in the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (Hart) Act of 2004.
"We are actively looking at ways we might be able to use eggs and sperm from overseas while still fulfilling our obligations under the Hart Act and the laws of New Zealand regarding payment," said Dr Andrew Murray, the medical director at Fertility Associates, which operates four clinics across New Zealand.
Central to the law is a ban on payments for egg or sperm donations; a requirement that children conceived through a donor should be able to identify their donor from age 18; and a ban on using imported sperm or eggs from donors who have been paid.
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Fertility Associates had taken legal advice to develop a way around the payment ban for egg donors, with the money received by women who donated being considered reimbursement for the extraction process, rather than compensation. Earlier this year, the "reimbursement" sum was increased from $400 to $1650, Murray said.
"What we recognised is that for a long time, particularly with egg donors, the amount of money they [received] for the time they took off work to attend appointments, to go through the treatment, the recovery time needed - it didn't realistically reflect what they were giving up."
Murray says they looked at similar jurisdictions for guidance, like the UK where donors are paid about £750.
"We took legal advice around how you define compensation versus reimbursement and the advice we were given is that the quantum we are talking about is not of the level that would be seen internationally as compensation. In the United States, where it is a commercial enterprise, an egg donor can receive between $5000-$10,000. This is clearly nowhere near that sort of level.
"We have come up with a figure of $1650 which is a reimbursement not a compensation. These people give up a lot and we don't want anyone who is willing to be altruistic enough to help another couple out to be financially worse off."
Importing sperm and eggs was more of a grey area, because many overseas clinics that could assist with the supply paid their donors and allowed them to remain anonymous, and hence contravened New Zealand's law.
"If we can source sperm from a country overseas where they don't pay their donors and we can fulfil our obligations around identifiability, that would be great for our patients because it would immediately increase the numbers of donors available," Murray said.
Fertility Associates has about 160 women waiting for an egg donor, with a waiting time of about a year. About 400 are on the sperm donor waiting list, where wait times may be as long as two years. Many had already been through other treatment and time was running out for some.
With the general drift of women delaying having children till later in life and with the so called "man drought", a lot of the women seeking help just hadn't found the right partner and subsequently, there was a heavy demand on donor sperm, Murray says.
Besides trying to work around the legal obstacles, social media had proved a solution for some in their search for a donor, Murray said.
"That's been a real plus. The ability for people to connect with a wider network of people means that if they are prepared to, they can share their story and potentially connect with other people who might be willing to be a donor for them."
He recalled one patient who was now pregnant through her donor, who made a seven minute video about themselves as parents-to-be, trying to capture their lives and what it would be like to have a child in their family. They posted it on Facebook, it went viral and subsequently a huge number of women offered to be a donor for them, Murray said.
"Not everyone wants to put their personal story on such an open forum but the consequence for this couple was that they found their donor a lot faster than if they had had to wait for a donor through the clinic."
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