A letter to the editor of the Economist

DOE has written the following letter to the Economist regarding the article “Nice to gamete you –¬†A solution to the shortage of donors“.


I was rather disappointed by your article on the alleged shortage of gamete donors in the UK. You hint that the abolishment of donor anonymity in the UK and “meagre” compensation are responsible for donor shortages, thereby bypassing all possible ethical arguments. Donating gametes is not comparable to providing a mere commodity, or a means of combating an ageing population. It creates human beings, who grow into adults with their own interests and wishes – including, frequently, the wish to know who their genetic parents are. The right to know about your ancestry is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These children also have a right to be assured that their parents will only use donor conception, which is a very challenging way to build a family, after careful consideration.

However it should be noted that the number of donors has actually more than doubled despite the decision to prohibit anonymous donations: from 272 in 2005 to 586 in 2013. Research indicates that the main motivation for many donors is altruistic – therefore often neither anonymity nor payment are decisive factors when men choose to become donors. Furthermore British donors are “underused” – i.e. most of them do not create the legal limit of ten families, supposedly because clinics do not want to share gametes with competitors. Consequently a national sperm bank might ensure better use of British donors, and hopefully also find responsible donors who have the future children’s best interests at heart.