The international human sperm trade, a rarely heard-of industry, is reaching out and creating demand around the world. It is also raising ethical and regulatory questions.
"It's a very clandestine industry ... a very quiet industry," says John Olson, the executive director of Cryogenics Laboratories in Roseville, Minn., and a 30-year veteran in the industry. Mr. Olson says that while the sperm trade is global, regulations vary widely around the world.
"We provide only to the physicians upon personal request," says Olson. "We want to make absolutely sure who we are dealing with in Europe."
Denmark, one of the leaders in providing sperm to other countries has a different regulatory process than America.
Cyros, a Danish company and one of the leaders in the industry, is having success because of laws requiring donor anonymity. Britain requires men to give personal details, which are kept in a national database. This requirement has reduced the number of donors. Last year, Cyros struck a deal with the British government to export bulk amounts of its product to a sperm bank in Scotland where there are few donors.
In the US, Olson says, the industry imposes many strict screening procedures along with rules from the Federal Drug Administration. Cryogenics, while not doing much business in Europe, has exported to South America and Israel. At the same time, Olson says, there are virtually no American couples looking for foreign sperm.
Sean Tipton, public affairs spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, says consolidation of sperm banks is frequent for competitive reasons. And, with the demand in America, which Olson says is high, will come more regulation. Mr. Tipton agrees. "The FDA is in the process of redoing some of the tissue regulations," including sperm, he says. Tipton also says that since no organization tracks the trade in the industry, it is difficult to get reliable figures on its size.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society