Monday, July 09, 2007

Ryan And Anna, Two Half Siblings Meet

AFA Connections
May 23, 2007

Ryan And Anna, Two Half Siblings Meet
By Wendy Kramer

I was sitting at my desk one day this past February when I saw the posting for donor #1058 come through the Donor Sibling Registry’s website. My heart skipped a beat. Immediately I called Ryan into the room. He recognized the tone in my voice right away. The posting was written by a 13-year-old girl. Uh oh.

We had been through two half-sibling near-misses already. Both times, the parents refused to let the meeting happen.

Both times, Ryan was devastated. The whole reason we had established the Donor Sibling Registry was so that Ryan could hopefully find and meet a half sibling. After years of waiting and watching so many others connect on the site it actually looked like he might be the 2,910th person on the DSR to match. Would the third time be the charm for Ryan? Could this 13–year-old posting on the DSR under #1058 be the one?

As DSR director, I first had to check, as I would with any posting of someone under 18, that she had her parent’s permission to do this. As I was typing my message, I received this from Anna's mother:

"Dear Wendy, My daughter, Anna, just responded to a posting by you regarding donor number 1058. This is the first time we have explored the registry and are very anxious to find out if your son is indeed a match.

My husband and I allowed Anna to register herself last night, with our supervision. She is 13-years-old, and was born on May 22nd, 1993. Our donor was a Mechanical Engineering student. He was born in 1967. He has one brother who is a pilot. Does any of this sound familiar to you?

As you can imagine, we are looking forward to a response and hope to hear from you soon.

Regards, Ann Marie (Anna's Mom) Robert ( Anna's Dad)"

Another message from Anna herself arrived simultaneously:" On the posting page you and I are in a pale yellow box, both with donor number 1058. Does this mean that there is a match?"

Oh, the surge of relief that washed over Ryan and me. This young girl not only had her parents’ perimission, they seemed as excited as we were to have found the match.

Call it destiny, but Anna shares the same birthday with Ryan. As I was serving a three-year-old Ryan his Superman birthday cake, Anna was being born 2000 miles away.

Within seconds, I emailed Ann Marie and gave her my work number. Within 30 minutes -- she waited for Bob to come home from work -- she called. Ryan had already gone back to school so he missed this first phone contact.

We were giddy. And in shock. I told her that even though were essentially strangers, we shared something so precious. We quickly traded a few bits about each of our kids, Anna asked to speak with me so that she could ask questions about the other half siblings that we knew about.

Later that evening Ryan and Anna linked up on My Space. They IM-ed. Over the next few weeks Ann Marie and I had several phone calls and eventually we got everyone for a telephonic pow-wow. We talked about the possibility of meeting. We all wanted that to happen ASAP.

Talk about synchronicity. ABC Televsion’s “Primetime” wanted to update a story that they had done more than four years ago about Ryan and the beginnings of the DSR. This was a golden opportunity.

Six weeks after Anna found Ryan, we were making plans to fly to NY to meet in Central Park and spend two days getting to know each other in New York City.

Excitement was running high. Ryan bought Anna a University of Colorado sweatshirt. The morning of the meeting each family had a camera crew to walk with towards Central Park. The show staff had set a meeting place but our two families bumped into each other walking along the park road.

It was tremendous. We all hugged. The smiles on Anna's and Ryan's faces were beatific. It was like they sensed "home" in each other. There was an undeniable bond and recognition of the familiar. We parents scoured the faces of the kids, looking for resemblances.

It was very emotional, to say the least. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Anna's parents’ honesty with their daughter and how they honored her curiosity and need to search and connect with Ryan. While Ann Marie and I had a more obvious bond, I was deeply moved by Bob’s willingness to put aside any possible fears or concerns about Anna finding her biological family. In this matter, he made his daughter more important than anything else. That is the best dad anyone could want.

We spent the first hour or so asking each other questions, taking pictures and comparing notes. We spend the next 48 hours getting to know each other and marveling at the similarities (and differences) in Ryan and Anna. It was clear to us, that even though we had just met, that we were connecting as family. Strange to be getting to know family for the first time.

We were laying the groundwork for a lifelong relationship. We made it clear that Ryan and Anna would be defining the terms and that there was no pressure for it to look a certain way. We told them that as they matured, that relationship would certainly evolve. We parents would execute the logistical plans, but based only on the desires of both Anna and Ryan.

Anna wore her CU sweatshirt with pride, despite the 75 degree weather.

It was interesting that both she and Ryan referred to each other as "brother" and "sister". We parents had been using "half brother" and "half sister". When we were talking about what their kids would be to each other, I suggested "half cousins". Anna just looked at me and said, "No. Just cousins".


Friday, June 15, 2007

The National Pastime

Op-Ed Columnist
“The National Pastime”
New York Times
Published: June 15, 2007

At this very moment thousands of people are surfing the Web looking for genetic material so their children will be nothing like me. They are looking through files at sperm bank sites with Jetson-like names such as Xytex, which have become the new eBays for offspring.

These sites take sex and turn it into shopping. They allow you to browse through page after page of donor profiles, comparing weight, noses, personality and what one site calls “tannability.”

Shoppers can use these sites and select much better genetic material than would be possessed by someone they could realistically lure into bed. And they can more efficiently engage in the national pastime — rigging our childrens’ lives so they’ll be turbocharged for success.

When given this kind of freedom of choice, people seem to want to produce athletic Aryans with a passion for housekeeping. There is tremendous market demand for DNA from blue-eyed, blond-haired, 6-foot-2 finely sculpted hunks who roast their own coffee. These are the kind of guys you see jogging in the park and nothing moves. They’ve got a stomach, a chest and flanks, but as they bounce along nothing jiggles, not even their hair. They’re like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime from the shoulders down, and Trent Lott from the scalp up.

Nor is brainpower neglected. In a bow to all that is sacred in our culture, one sperm bank has one branch located between Harvard and M.I.T. and the other next to Stanford. An ad in The Harvard Crimson offered $50,000 for an egg from a Harvard woman. A recent ad in the Chicago Maroon at the University of Chicago offered $35,000 for a Chicago egg and stipulated, “You must be very healthy, very intelligent and very attractive, and most of all, very happy. Liberal political views and athletic ability are pluses.”

(Is liberalism genetic? I thought it was the product of some environmental deprivation.)

In any case, a Harris poll suggested that more than 40 percent of Americans would use genetic engineering to upgrade their children mentally and physically. If you get social acceptance at that level, then everybody has to do it or their kids will be left behind.

Which means that sooner or later reproduction becomes a casting call for “Baywatch” and people like me become an evolutionary dead end. For centuries my ancestors have been hewing peat in Wales and skipping school in Ukraine, but those of us in the low-center-of-gravity community will be left on evolution’s cutting-room floor. People under 5-foot-9 can’t even donate sperm to these banks, so my co-equals are doomed, let alone future Napoleons.

The people who do this will pay no heed to the fact that mediocre looks have always been a great spur to creative achievement and ugliness is the mother of genius.

In a world in which Brad Pitt is average, say farewell to loneliness, sublimation and nerds’ witty bids for attention. In a world in which everyone is smart, good-looking and pleasant, everyone will be fit to perform in hit movies, but no one will be fit to review them.

I’m not under the illusion that any of this can be stopped. Conservatives like me think that if you want your kids to have Harvard genes you should have to endure living with a Harvard spouse. But the rest of the country is not with us. There’s no way people are going to foreswear the joys of creative genetics. “I would probably choose somebody with a darker skin color so I don’t have to slather sunblock on my kid all the time,” one potential mother told Jennifer Egan of The Times Magazine last year.

So as my kind heads off to obsolescence, I wonder about the unintended consequences. What if it’s true, as some believe, that genes are dominant and home environment has little effect on children? You could have two lesbian bikers giving birth to Mitt Romney.

What if parents are perpetually buying genes on the downward slope? After all, for maximum success, you don’t want President Kennedy’s genes. You want Joseph Kennedy’s genes. You don’t want Bill Clinton’s genes. You want his father’s. What if we get the national equivalent of the 38th generation of the House of Windsor?

Or, on the other hand, what if nurture still trumps nature? After all, if you look at world-historical figures you’re struck by how many had their parents die when they were about 12. How many superconcerned moms and dads are going to put that in their datebook?

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Manchester Evening News: Men Still Donating Sperm

Men still donating sperm

3/ 5/2007

NEW laws removing sperm donors' right to anonymity have not stoppedmen volunteering, official figures released today show.

It had been feared that rules which came into force in April 2005enabling future children to trace their biological father would leadto a fall in donations.

But the first full-year figures from the Human Fertilisation andEmbryology Authority (HFEA) since the change show a 6% rise in thenumber of men registering as donors.

A total of 265 new sperm donors (of which 208 were based in the UK)were registered with the HFEA in the 12 months to 31 March last year.

That compares with just 250 (including 197 in the UK) the previous year.

It is the first time that full figures have been available for thefirst year of the new system as many clinics do not register donorswith the HFEA until they have completed the lengthy screening process.

Donor numbers had been falling over a 10-year period and recentreports have pointed to a shortage of sperm reaching apparently crisislevels - widely attributed to the removal of anonymity.

At one point last year there was just one active donor covering thewhole of Scotland - a figure which has now risen to three.

A spokeswoman for the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) said that part of the reason for the decline was the decision by many clinics tostop recruitment amid uncertainty over the future of the system whilethe changes were being discussed.

HFEA chair Shirley Harrison said: "Many commentators continue to claimthat the change in the law to remove anonymity for sperm and eggdonors would lead to an immediate and steep fall in the number of donors.

"These new figures show that the predicted drop in sperm donor numbersis a myth."

She added: "Professionals working in the sector say that there are acomplex set of reasons which led to a fall in donor numbers from 1997 onwards."

NGDT chair Laura Witjens welcomed the increase but said the number of donors were still far short of the estimated 500 donors needed to meet demand.

"The most important lesson that can be learned from this is that recruiting donors can be done," she said.

"First and foremost it requires a willingness to put the effort in, something that is not happening across the sector.

"The focus should continue to be on raising awareness and recruiting willing-to-be-known egg and sperm donors.

"These statistics give hope and show we are on the right path regarding the sperm donors but a lot more needs to be done to recruit egg donors."


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ethics: Mother and sister, mother and grandmother

Margaret Somerville,
Citizen SpecialPublished: Friday, April 27, 2007
Page a15 / arguments

Now that human eggs can be frozen, the effects of gamete donation on the resulting children are the subject of an overdue debate

Last week it was announced that a Montreal woman, Melanie Boivin, hadundergone ovarian stimulation and had her ova (eggs) frozen for possiblefuture use by her daughter, Flavie, who has Turner's syndrome and who willbe infertile as a result. While Melanie's action was done entirely out oflove for her child, if Flavie uses those ova she would give birth to herhalf-brother or half-sister, and the child would be the son or daughter andgrandchild of Melanie.

The media reported this case on two fronts: The scientific focus was therecent "breakthrough" of being able to freeze human ova.

The ethical issues this raises was the other focus. Leaving aside for themoment the most fundamental question of whether any gamete donation isethical, here's a sampling of some ethics questions I've been asked in thepast few days.

If a young man is infertile and his wife fertile and they belong to acultural group in which genetic relationship is very important, is itacceptable for the man's father to donate sperm to inseminate his son'swife? This would result in the same genetic relationship on the male side as would result on the female side in the Boivin case.

I would argue that both are ethically unacceptable, but if the male donationis seen as acceptable, consistency seems to require, at least at firstglance, that the female donation be treated in the same way.

Is one problem here that it's a parent donating to a child? What about theother way around -- a daughter donating ova to her mother who hasexperienced premature menopause? If we accept that gamete donation can beethical in some circumstances, would it be ethical for a brother to donate sperm to a brother, or a sister donate ova to a sister? Or is any donationbetween close relatives unethical?

An obvious case of such ethical unacceptability would be a brother donatingsperm for his sister's use. This would not be incest, because that requiressexual intercourse, but the vast majority of people would see it asethically wrong, quite apart from the genetic risk involved for theresulting child. But how should we view these other "related donor" casesand do they all raise the same ethical issues?

For instance, is a man donating sperm for his son's use ethically differentfrom a woman donating ova for her daughter's use? The wider question thatraises is: Are there ethically relevant differences between male and femaledonation of gametes? And the even wider one: Is gamete donation itselfethically acceptable?

Let's start with the last question, whether gamete donation, in general, isethically acceptable.

"Anticipated consent" is an emerging doctrine in ethics. It requires us toask whether we can reasonably anticipate that the persons most affected bywhat we plan to do would, were they able to decide, be reasonably likely togive their consent. The answer we are now getting from many people conceivedthrough gamete donation is that they would not have consented.

They believe that an ethical wrong was done to them -- especially if thedonation was anonymous -- and that society was complicit in that wrong byproviding its resources to make their conception through gamete donationpossible. Some people respond that many children conceived naturally don'tknow who their father is or are reared in a family where their mother'shusband is not their genetic father, so why is sperm donation an ethicalproblem?

The reason is society's intentional involvement in their conception in thatway. This complicity requires society to ethically justify the outcome forthe child. Because ova donation can never occur naturally and alwaysrequires technological intervention, unlike "private" sperm donation,society will necessarily be complicit in it, and therefore must ensure suchethical justification is present.

That being said, might there be differences between sperm donation and ovadonation that are ethically relevant? Children conceived through spermdonation have life handed on to them through the natural process ofconception and birth. That is not true of ova donation, because the gestational mother is not the biological mother, a situation that couldnever occur naturally.

Usually, the nearer we are to the natural in using the new science, thefewer ethical difficulties we are likely to encounter. This distinction issometimes summed up as the difference between repairing nature when it failsand doing what is impossible in nature.

In a broad sense, all children are conceived by "sperm donation," whichmight explain why we have not analysed the ethics of such donation asclosely as perhaps we should have. Sometimes, further scientificdevelopments cause us to revisit practices that we have regarded asethically settled and identify further ethical questions that need to beaddressed.

I believe ova donation is doing that in relation to sperm donation, at leastregarding the conditions under which it should be allowed. For instance,there is a growing international consensus that anonymous gamete donation isunethical and should be prohibited. To the contrary, the Canadian AssistedHuman Reproduction Act makes it a crime, with heavy penalties, to disclosethe identity of gamete donors without their informed consent.

The fertility industry -- a $5-billion (U.S.) per year business in theUnited States -- is strongly opposed to prohibiting either anonymous gametedonation or payment of gamete donors, because such prohibitions can decreaseaccess to gametes. Yet, strikingly, altruism is used as a major marketingtool to recruit donors. I suggest that emphasis helps to suppress moral intuitions donors may experience about the ethics of what they are doing inrelation to their resulting child. What is clear is that without payment,whether in cash or kind, many people -- in particular, women -- are not willing to donate.

Other, more general, questions I was asked in relation to freezing ovaincluded whether women would now store ova as teenagers in order to attaintheir career goals before having babies in their 50s. The companion commentwas invariably, "If men in their 70s can father a child (and usually CharlieChaplin and Pierre Elliott Trudeau were mentioned as examples), what's wrongwith a woman being a new mother at that age? Isn't preventing women fromfreezing their ova to use at any time during their lives, discrimination onthe basis of sex and age?"

I would argue, again, that there is a difference ethically between thatwhich happens naturally (old-age fatherhood) and that which is impossiblenaturally and requires a technological intervention to do an end run aroundnature (old-age motherhood).

Sometimes scientific advances solve some ethical problems rather than -- or, as well as -- creating new ones, and that is true of freezing ova. Just aswe've been able to freeze sperm for young men whose fertility is threatened by cancer treatment, we can now freeze ova for young women in the same circumstances. That will avoid the ethically troublesome situation of havingto create an embryo in order to preserve a young woman's opportunity to haveher own genetic child and heartbreaking situations such as that of theBritish woman who stored embryos created with her partner's sperm beforecancer treatment that left her infertile. Her partner later withdrew hisconsent for her use of the embryos and the European Court of Human Rights,the final court of appeal, consistent with all the other courts which heard the case, has just ordered them destroyed.

Ova freezing is just one more example that raises the broad question: Howshould we deal ethically with scientific advances in reproductivetechnologies? I propose that all these technologies must be ethicallyevaluated primarily through the lens of the children who will result from their use.

That lens requires that, at the very least, we first do no harm to thosechildren; that we respect their fundamental human rights to come into beingfrom natural biological origins; and that we act in their "best interests,"in particular, in preserving their natural genetic relationships.

Except for concern about physical risks to children from using reproductivetechnologies, the focus up to now has been almost entirely on the rights ofadults, who want to have a child, to use these technologies -- that is, onlythe adult lens has been used. That has caused a failure to consider, in thedepth and breath required, both what ethics requires with respect to thechildren conceived through the use of reproductive technologies and thefundamental human rights of those children with respect to their coming into being.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Judge says accidental sperm donor has no right to know if he's a father

Posted by The Oregonian April 16, 2007 15:56PM
By Ashbel S. Green

A Portland man whose sperm was inadvertently given to a Salem-area woman has no right to find out whether he is a father, a Multnomah County judge has ruled.

Circuit Judge Henry Kantor said he was not finished writing his opinion, but wanted the parties to know his decision because it had been so long - nearly seven months - since they argued the case before him.The man, who sued for a paternity test under the initials M.H., claimed that he produced a sperm sample at Oregon Health & Science University's fertility clinic in September to impregnate his fiancee. The same day, a Marion County couple that had struggled to start a family was visiting the clinic. A mix-up occurred, and clinic workers gave M.H.'s sperm sample to the woman.

OHSU has apologized for giving the woman the sperm.

M.H. claims OHSU officials initially lied about what happened to his sample, only conceding later that they gave it away.

The woman claims OHSU officials tried to coerce her into having an abortion.

Since then, M.H. has filed two lawsuits: one to establish whether he is the father of a child and another to get $2 million from OHSU for emotional distress.

Jane Paulson, an attorney for M.H., declined to comment on whether her client would appeal.

Michael G. Smith, the attorney for the Marion County couple, praised the decision. He said he expected M.H. to appeal. "I think essentially what they would be doing is to ask the Oregon Court of Appeals to declare Oregon's artificial insemination statute unconstitutional, which is a tall order," Smith said




109.239 Rights and obligations of children resulting from artificial insemination; rights and obligations of donor of semen

109.243 Relationship of child resulting from artificial insemination to mother’s husband

109.247 Application of law to children resulting from artificial insemination

109.239 Rights and obligations of children resulting from artificial insemination; rights and obligations of donor of semen. If the donor of semen used in artificial insemination is not the mother’s husband:
(1) Such donor shall have no right, obligation or interest with respect to a child born as a result of the artificial insemination; and
(2) A child born as a result of the artificial insemination shall have no right, obligation or interest with respect to such donor. [1977 c.686 §5]

Note: 109.239 to 109.247 were enacted into law by the Legislative Assembly but were not added to or made a part of ORS chapter 109 or any series therein by legislative action. See Preface to Oregon Revised Statutes for further explanation.

109.243 Relationship of child resulting from artificial insemination to mother’s husband. The relationship, rights and obligation between a child born as a result of artificial insemination and the mother’s husband shall be the same to all legal intents and purposes as if the child had been naturally and legitimately conceived by the mother and the mother’s husband if the husband consented to the performance of artificial insemination. [1977 c.686 §6]

Note: See note under 109.239.

109.247 Application of law to children resulting from artificial insemination. Except as may be otherwise provided by a judicial decree entered in any action filed before October 4, 1977, the provisions of ORS 109.239 to 109.247, 677.355 to 677.365 and 677.990 (3) apply to all persons conceived as a result of artificial insemination. [1977 c.686 §7]

Note: See note under 109.239.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

UK NGDT Chair Defends “Give a Toss” Sperm Donor Campaign

Recruiting sperm donors: why it's time for a new approach

Laura Witjens, Chair, National Gamete Donation Trust
April 4, 2007

The National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) has never believed that removal of anonymity in the UK caused the decline in sperm donor numbers. As we said in a previous BioNews commentary: 'It is important to remember that, with or without the removal of anonymity, there have never been enough gamete donors in the UK to meet the demand. One of the main problems continues to be lack of awareness' (BioNews, 7 August 2006).

In the same commentary we called for a 'can-do' attitude and referred to the clinics that have done well in recruiting. However, a year down the line we can only draw one conclusion. Whilst the model of donor recruitment of successful clinics can be emulated, it isn't. Furthermore, even at their most successful, it is highly unlikely that the handful of clinics that have done well in recruiting sperm donors would be able to satisfy the national requirement, which is estimated to be 500 donors at any given moment. There is a shortage and without a national approach we will continue to have one.

The Department of Health-funded 'Give Life Give Hope' campaign (2005), which coincided with the announcement of the removal of anonymity, allowed the NGDT to measure responses. We learnt that men who responded well to the campaign were in their thirties, avid users of the internet and hardly ever responded to just one message alone. We also learnt that getting the message across is a very expensive exercise. The advice we were given was that we should expect to spend on average £100,000 per year on public relations in addition to a skilled full time public relations staff member. A start-up advertising campaign would cost £500,000 for magazine advertising, £50,000 for radio and, if possible, TV at about £1m. Each year thereafter we should expect to spend £500,000.

So when we were approached by BDP Creative, who were interested in exploring and demonstrating the benefits of a digital viral marketing campaign, we were excited. It combined some of the points we had seen in the earlier campaign and it was aimed at our target market. They were looking for an interesting public service project to which they could bring their unique skills. Viral marketing facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message. If a large percentage of recipients forward something to a large number of friends, the overall growth snowballs very quickly. If the pass- along numbers get too low, the overall growth quickly fizzles. For viral marketing to work, the initial message is required to capture the imagination of so many people that they pass it on to their friends by email. For marketing purposes, humour or eccentricity is often the key.

Our immediate reaction was to be cautious. It was obvious to all of us that this was likely to be sensitive. Also, as was recognised in a BioNews commentary published on 20 March 2007, the NGDT has been working hard to change the image of sperm donation and has made real progress together with the clinics. We would not want to tarnish the good work that has been done and we continue to be involved with. However, as our discussions progressed, discussions which included parents of donor conceived children, we decided that it was worth trying. We felt that the opportunity to address such a wide and otherwise new audience and get over the message justified a slightly over the top approach. We have to communicate with potential donors in a way that reaches them as they are, not how we would like them to be. We wanted to harness the typical and immediate response of the general public to work to our advantage, rather than be put off by it.

The purpose of the new campaign is threefold. Firstly, we are hoping to raise awareness of the need for sperm donation amongst young men, particularly amongst those whom we cannot reach by our normal methods, in the hope that a proportion of the older ones, in their mid to late thirties, will come forward in the nearish future. Our second purpose comes from our observation that people try new and interesting activities because they have heard of them over a period of time from a variety of independent sources. Typically, we might have read an article about something; a little bit later we see a documentary on the subject so that when a friend raves about it we decide to give it a try. So our other purpose, and perhaps the most important, is to plant the seed of the idea amongst the target group so that if and when one or more further triggers arise during the next few years, the seed will germinate into the act of donation. Finally the third purpose was to generate a debate on the issues in the wider media.

We do not believe that this campaign affects the altruistic nature of donation, that is, the kindness of the kind man. No one will donate because they think our campaign is funny; only those who take the bait, read on and get the message. Potential sperm donors that contact the National Office receive a full information pack with practical, legal and medical information. Initial follow-up calls suggest that these men did get the message, and a substantial percentage have actually decided to go on and contact a clinic. Regardless of what message made the potential sperm donor contact a clinic or the NGDT, we believe a donor is a very special, caring and committed person.

Due to a variety of circumstances, there is a lot of talk, not enough action and little money for organisations like ourselves. We are therefore grateful to be given this opportunity by BDP Creative. This campaign - which has cost the NGDT, the sector and the tax payer no money at all - has spurred over 100 potential sperm donors (with an average age of 26.8) to contact the NGDT in just over two weeks. Clinics have reported an increase in enquiries as well. The campaign 'Give Life Give Hope', attracted the same number of enquiries in double the time.

Finally, we'd like to quote Richard, a DC father (who was asked his views as the campaign was developed): 'It is all very well pussyfooting around the subject matter, trying to avoid upsetting the sensitivities of those that do not approve of DC in principle or to look at the present situation and say that the NGDT are undoing years of work to remove the stigma of donating when the current shortage of donors does not directly affect you. The reality is that those many years of work have simply not delivered results'.

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NYMag: Israeli Donor Egg Farming

There is a shortage of Jewish in vitro eggs. Hopeful parents are turning to the Promised Land.

By Kira Peikoff
New York Magazine
April 9, 2007

Here’s a riddle for your rabbi: If your baby is born from in vitro fertilization, and the donated egg isn’t from a Jewish woman, is the baby really Jewish? Although different branches of Judaism have different answers—Reform says it’s about how the kid’s raised; Orthodox rabbis tend to believe a conversion is necessary—many parents want to make sure their child is a member of the tribe down to its DNA. The problem is there aren’t enough Jewish eggs to go around. So a new type of yenta has arrived on the IVF scene who finds suitable donors, usually from Israel, to match with Americans seeking to become pregnant.

According to the director of NYU’s egg-donation program, Dr. Frederick Licciardi, at his clinic last year, 43 of the 130 women waiting to receive an egg were Jewish, and yet only 19 of the 91 anonymous donors were even partially Jewish. “Americans are not donating at the rate they are needed,” he says. So the clinic allied with a Jewish egg-donor agency that recruits Israeli women, called the Ovum Donor Registry. Judi Fleishman, founder of the Manhattan-based agency, explains that in the early nineties, Fleishman’s doctor kept asking her if she knew of any Jewish egg donors, so she placed ads in Israeli newspapers, and 25 responded. In 1996, she signed a contract with NYU, which had opened its fertility center four years before. Fleishman, who is fluent in Hebrew, still advertises in Israeli newspapers but says 90 percent of her donors reach her through word of mouth from past donors. She’s worked with about 500 women to date.

Another director of a Manhattan-based Jewish egg-donor agency, Ruth Tavor, says hospitals suggested to her in 2002—when she was pregnant with a donated egg—that she start a Jewish-egg-recruiting business. Now her agency, New York LifeSpring, works with fifteen hospitals around the country, three of them in New York.

“So many centers are contacting me because I have access to Jewish donors,” says Tavor, who recruits Israelis exclusively. “Jewish women here, for some reason I don’t know, do not donate.” Fleishman has a theory. “Americans are very phobic about taking hormones—they do a disconnect between taking hormones and taking birth control.” (A donor takes a daily regimen of hormone injections to stimulate her ovaries to produce about fifteen eggs.) “It doesn’t have the stigma in Israeli society.”

Most Israelis travel for a year to South America or the Far East after their army service ends. Some young women stop in the U.S. along the way and donate. Many of the donors use their payment of $8,000 to help finance their studies once they return to Israel. Fleishman takes her cut—$3,500 per transfer—from the waiting couples, who pay roughly $30,000 in total for one cycle. One Israeli woman who donated twice through NYU notes that Israelis may identify more strongly with infertile couples because of their society’s strong pressure to reproduce, noting that “the state gives money to women who give birth.”

Neither NYU nor Fleishman or Tavor will accept or pay more money for Jewish eggs, but one unrelated college classified ad promises Jewish donors $20,000.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

UK BioNews: Donor recruitment: is "tackiness" the answer? (March 2007)

Eric Blyth is Professor of Social Work at the University of Huddersfield and Adjunct Professor at the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre, University of Alberta, Canada Irene Ryll RN is convenor of Infertility Connection, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

"In a previous Bionews Commentary, Joanne Adams, Elizabeth Pease and Brian Lieberman wrote of their experiences of recruiting sperm donors following the 2005 legislative change in the UK requiring donors to agree to the disclosure of their identity to any people conceived as a result of their donation. Their account of their success in recruiting donors cast doubt on the repeated claims that the change in law was necessarily responsible for a crisis in donor recruitment in the UK (after all many countries that still protect donor anonymity, such as Canada, also report donor shortages). They also challenged those wishing to provide donor services to change their attitude towards sperm donation.

Whether the change in attitude represented by the latest "Give a Toss" sperm donor recruitment campaign ( was quite what they had in mind is another matter. Since it was established in 1998, the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) has certainly not had an easy task either in raising awareness of gamete and embryo donation or increasing donor recruitment donors and the free PR, which has enabled the "Give a Toss" campaign to be launched, appears to have been an offer it couldn't refuse.

"Give a Toss" is provocatively tacky, designed to reach the potential sperm donors that other methods have failed to reach, although ironically perpetuating the very stereotype of sperm donation that NGDT was previously keen to dispel (1).

Relying on the tried and tested "sex sells" formula, the campaign website features young women in "We Want Your Sperm"- emblazoned T shirts, encouraging would be donors to practice and improve their "wrist action" on an interactive "Toss-O-Meter" game.

Among some useful facts about sperm and human reproduction, the website imparts further knowledge of the impact of ingesting certain foods on the taste of semen (we haven't tested these recipes, so readers will have to take the campaign's word for it - or try for themselves), although - to misapply an analogy - since you cannot have your cake and eat it, we can't quite see the relevance of semen as a dietary supplement for a campaign for sperm donation.

We could go on, but the two points we want to make here are, first, that we are not humourless killjoys who can't have a laugh when there is a laugh to be had. The second point, though, is that we think there's a time and a place, and a serious sperm donor recruitment campaign is not the place to employ adolescent humour to disparage sperm donation. One thing the campaign seems unlikely to do is encourage any man to advertise the fact that he donates sperm and so possibly recruit other donors through personal example.

Many people, including ourselves (IR as the mother of three donor conceived children and EB as an academic researcher) - as well as NGDT itself - have been working to change the image of sperm donation for years. We have promoted gamete donation in our own countries as a responsible and respectable activity that affords due respect to donors, to parents who have used donor conception to build their families and to donor-conceived people. In what appears to be a desperate measure to maximize recruitment, this campaign risks not only undermining much of that work but also of disrespecting, distressing and offending donors, people who have used donor conception, and donor-conceived people. Far better, as one young person has suggested to us, to share letters from recipients or donor-conceived people who want to thank their donor. Perhaps some may think that "thank you" letters won't "sell" sperm donation. Alternatively, they may well inspire prospective donors and honour past donors that they are involved in a valued form of family building.

The two Manchester clinics for which Joanne Adams and her colleagues are recruiting donors account for around a quarter of current UK sperm donors. Their approach may not generate the newsworthiness of the "Give a Toss" campaign, but it is delivering the goods while respecting the dignity of all those involved in gamete donation. Self-evidently, if two clinics can make such a difference, their model of donor recruitment can be emulated elsewhere in the UK without resorting to the tawdry message of the "Give a Toss" campaign."

(1) BBC Radio 4 (2006) Woman's Hour. 14 August

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UK BioNews: Donor recruitment: change attitudes, not the law (October 2006)

Joanne Adams, Senior Andrologist, Manchester Fertility Services; Dr Elizabeth Pease, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine, St Mary's Hospital, Manchester and Professor Brian Lieberman, Medical Director, Manchester Fertility Services 16 October 2006

"In the late 1990's when removal of donor anonymity was first mooted in the UK, many felt that it would herald the end of treatment with donor sperm. Recruitment became more difficult and costly, and many potential donors were discouraged by the lack of information and rumours that the change may be retro-active. As a consequence donor numbers dropped precipitiously and many of the smaller banks closed.

It was hardly surprising that when the law was changed and donor anonymity removed, that the UK was left with few donor banks, unevenly distributed across the the UK. From 1st April 2006 the stocks of frozen donor sperm from anonymous men could only be used to create siblings for existing donor conceived children.

In Manchester, we recognised that a new strategy would be necessary to recruit men willing to be identified in the future by their genetic offspring. Both Manchester Fertility Services (MFS), a fee paying centre and the NHS DI service at St Mary's Hospital have successful donor recruitment programmes.

At MFS more than 40 identifiable men are currently donating, and it is anticipated that 50 will be donating by the end of the year. Eleven donors have been recruited so far within the NHS.

At MFS we anticipated a change in the law and from early 2004 were pro-active and recruited only donors prepared to be identified, knowing that it takes 9-12 months to have fully quarantined and ready to use donor sperm. We also asked 10 of our most recently recruited anonymous donors if they were prepared to convert to being identifiable and four agreed to do so, thus becoming our first identifiable donors.

Recruitment was fairly slow at the beginning of 2004, with only four or five donors recruited midway through the year. We reassessed our strategy. We were advertising but had no idea which adverts were effective. We decided to log all enquiries and audit which advertisements were most effective. We were then able to perform a crude cost/benefit analysis. This strategy is still used as we try different advertising methods, and enquiries are reviewed periodically to assess the success of each method. The 'Big Issue' magazine is the most successful, and currently responsible for approximately half of our identifiable donors. We still recruit a handful of student donors by advertising once a year during 'freshers week' in a student magazine. A recent radio advertisement played over two weeks generated a lot of interest but to date only two donors have been recruited via the air waves.

We regard donors as special people who need to be cherished. We deal with each enquiry promptly and personally. Our secretarial staff ensure that each and every enquiry is transferred to a specific member of our scientific staff and if they are unavailable, a return call is made on the same day. The change in law and the screening procedure are explained in reasonable detail. Messages left on our answer-phone are personally and promptly returned. Previously we just sent out an information pack in response to an enquiry. This wasted a lot of time and most men did not respond. Having spoken to us the enquirers are much more likely to proceed. They are then sent a sperm donation information pack that includes our own literature and that produced by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and our own questionnaire, which they are asked be complete and return.

If the information provided on the questionnaire suggests that the applicant is suitable, an appointment is made for a semen analysis and implications counselling. The initial counselling is now carried out by a trained member of the laboratory team and provides the opportunity to impart detailed information about the donation process, the responsibilities of being a donor as well as asking for more detailed information about the family history and medical issues. It also provides the potential donor with the opportunity to ask any questions. Introducing this step has meant that we are able early on, to screen out the obviously unsuitable, and to initiate investigations into some of the potential medical issues before an appointment is made with a member of the medical staff. This has consequently cut down on wasted appointments slots with the doctors. Two consultants take a special interest in donor recruitment. Other simple strategies have been employed such as reminding people of appointments, following up those that did not attend and being flexible with appointment times. All these tactics amount to nurturing the applicant through the process and have collectively helped to increase our take on rate.

The profiles of identifiable donors, are different to previous donors. As anticipated they are older, mostly in employment and quite often have families of their own, compared with the younger, generally student, anonymous donors. Gone are the days where sperm donation was regarded as 'beer money'. Nowadays we need to encourage men to come forward and commit themselves to a lengthy but rewarding process. We must treat them with the respect they deserve. The change in the law has been for the better and this is recognised by the modern donor. This is self-evident from some of the Goodwill Messages and Pen pictures on their registration forms. We certainly do not have a shortage of potential donors in Manchester but donor recruitment requires a dedicated team who recognise and support the wisdom underlying the change in the law. Changing the law is not the answer, what is necessary is a change in attitude of those who wish to provide donor treatment with donated sperm."

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