The British Fertility Society (BFS) has warned that Britain is facing a “major sperm shortage”. For some years those clinicians involved in treating childless couples through IVF using donor sperm have warned that a crisis in the supply chain is looming. Following the removal of the right to anonymity for donors in 2005, the number of donors has fallen dramatically. Indeed 25% of all samples now come from abroad according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), who regulate these matters.
The use of sperm samples in IVF is heavily regulated, even the rights of men to store and use their own sperm with a partner are strictly circumscribed by law.
Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the BFS and a leading clinician in this field, has warned that there may be a temptation to bend the rules, accept lower quality sperm or attempt DIY insemination from an unregulated donor where a couple face difficulty in sourcing a donor for IVF. The HFEA currently discount such concerns but experience dictates that the risk of circumstances arising which are not foreseen nor covered by the regulations is not by any means impossible. It is where science and human ingenuity take us beyond the regulations that we find the law chasing to catch up. Unregulated activity, or even regulated activity with unexpected consequences throws up novel and complex points of law. “Addressing these issues before they arise, in so far as is possible, must be a sensible step and the risks should not be dismissed” commented Chris Thorne, Partner, specialising in sperm destruction and cryopreservation at Clarke Willmott “The couples who find themselves at the forefront of legal battles, having already faced challenging medical issues, are not well served if the law does not at least turn its mind to what may occur, rather than wrangling over the issues years after the event”.
Chris Thorne was solicitor for the group of Claimants in the ground breaking Court of Appeal decision Yearworth and others v North Bristol NHS Trust  EWCA Civ 37, establishing rights arising from the negligent damage of sperm samples stored on behalf of cancer patients.