A scientist from the Abertay University in Dundee has sparked controversy by stating that all 18 year old males should freeze sperm for use in later life.
Dr Kevin Smith has said that the average age of a man fathering a child is now 33 and that society is at risk of producing children more susceptible to serious disorder such as autism and schizophrenia, as sperm is more prone to error with age. He said “I think on a society-wide basis, we do need to worry about it – it is a very real and pronounced effect … it’s time we took seriously the issue of paternal age and its effect on the next generation of children”.
Dr Smith has suggested that men over the age of 40 may be better off using frozen sperm from their teens as opposed to conceiving a child with sperm of the time.
The suggestion has been the subject of great scrutiny, with Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, calling it “one of the most ridiculous suggestions I have heard in a long time”. Dr Pacey highlights that the majority of sperm does not freeze very well and that the risks associated with fathering in later life are “really quite small”.
The suggestion also seems to overlook that fact that it is not just a matter of freezing the sperm. If men were to routinely use frozen sperm, their partners would have to undergo IVF procedures. The proposal appears to assume that a woman would consent to undergoing an otherwise unnecessary medical procedure. It also ignores the increased risks arising from using frozen sperm in any event. IVF is very expensive and the NHS is unlikely to be in a position to fund such treatment, in addition to storing the sperm which on a private basis currently costs around £150-£200 per year per donor and £3,000 to £5,000 per IVF cycle.
Professor Adam Balen, Chariman of the British Fertility Society, also has concerns about the proposal, saying “Not only does it provide a very artificial approach to procreation, but also a false sense of security as the technology does not guarantee a baby”.
Chris Thorne, Clinical Negligence Partner at Clarke Willmott, specialises in fertilisation claims, and has worldwide recognition as an expert in this field following a number of high profile wins; including the leading case of Yearworth v North Bristol NHS Trust. He and his clients are all too aware of the risks surrounding sperm storage and the effect it can when the sample is unsuitable for use and the donor is unable to conceive.
“Dr Smith seems to be a presenting a minority view. He is better qualified than I to comment on the risks which arise through using frozen sperm but it seems to be well established that such use does carry an increased risk of problems over and above natural conception. What he does not appear to take in to account is the sad fact that failures and errors in the storage system continue to take place, resulting in loss or damage to samples, which can impact significantly on an individuals’ ability to father a child using a frozen sample.”
If you, or anyone you know, wishes to speak to Chris about a claim involving fertilisation, please contact him on 0345 209 1461 (Chris.Thorne@clarkewillmott.com).