Anonymity loss stifles research

June 18, 2004

A university-based sperm donation centre has given up trying to recruit donors because fears about loss of anonymity are driving away volunteers, MPs were told this week.

The long-running debate about donor anonymity came to a head last week when the House of Lords approved regulations giving children that have been conceived from donated sperm the right to find out who their real father is.

One consequence of this move became clear on Monday, during the first session of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee's inquiry on the laws governing human reproductive technologies.

Medical experts giving evidence to the committee warned that sperm donation levels across the country were drastically low.

Liz Corrigan, business manager of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at Bristol University, which was one of the biggest recruitment centres for donors, told the committee: "Our patients are already getting sperm from the United States. We may have to close our donor programme."

She told The Times Higher after the meeting that it was no longer worth spending thousands of pounds on recruiting donors as it was impossible to attract more than about one suitable donor a year. She said: "We have decided recruitment is not cost-effective."

The panel of fertility experts also warned the select committee that their research was being constrained by excessive bureaucracy and unfair costs.

They attacked plans under consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to charge up to £6,000 to license research projects.

Neil McClure, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen's University Belfast, warned MPs that this fee would stifle research and put off cash-strapped charitable funders.

He said: "There is no need anymore to have the HFEA regulating basic research projects. They will be tightly regulated by local ethics committees and research governance."

Robert Key, Conservative MP and committee member, read out a letter from Suzy Leather, chair of the HFEA, states that researchers have to pay more because the organisation is not getting enough money from government departments.

Although witnesses stopped short of demanding that the HFEA should be scrapped completely, they told the committee that its role was too far reaching.

Richard Kennedy, secretary of the British fertility Society, said a body such as the Human Genetics Commission would be better placed to deal with policy decisions in this field, adding that the inspection and licensing role should be taken out of the HFEA.

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