Australian sperm donors are scared off by laws enabling IVF children track down their biological fathers when they turn 18. New South Wales enacted such a regulation last year.
But not many sperm donors like to be identified, hence native donation dries up, forcing women to turn to donations from abroad, particularly US.
AdvertisementEven the US donors must agree to be identified, but apparently they don't mind since the children are sired far away.
IVF Australia head Professor Michael Chapman told The Sunday Telegraph that donor shortages had become critical, falling from 100 to 10 at his clinic in the past four years.
"Last year we only had two or three donors on our books," Professor Chapman said. "Today around Australia there are about 50 donors, but the demand is still substantially higher than that."
As a result, IVF Australia started importing sperm from the US two months ago.
Professor Chapman said donor imports were "not ideal" but would help reduce waiting times for insemination.
Fertility specialist from the same clinic, Professor Peter Illingworth, said the change in the law was directly linked to the drop-off in sperm donors.
"There is no doubt that when the law was first introduced, it affected the number of men willing to donate sperm. It is a big undertaking. Being a donor is very serious and the fact is, not many men are willing to do it," he said.
In the UK too, newspapers have reported that following a similar legislation five years ago infertile couples were scouting abroad for sperm match following severe shortage of sperm available for IVF.
Infertility support groups even warn that Britain is on brink of a "national crisis".
And they called on the Government for a campaign to recruit more sperm donors to replenish the depleted stocks.
Clare Brown, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, said the change in law six years ago had made a "huge difference" to the number of men volunteering.
She said: "Clinics across the country are having to close because there is a shortage of donor sperm - and that constitutes a crisis.
"Before the anonymity law was introduced we didn't have a shortage of sperm donors - now we have.
"This is a very real worry and something has to be done to help the thousands of couples out there who face a childless future without donated sperm."
But there is a growing trend of insistence on disclosure of the identity of the donor. The recently opened Donor Sibling Registry, a website allows donors and donor-conceived children to voluntarily connect. Its founder Wendy Kramer of US says there are now 33,000 users and the website has made more than 9,000 connections.
Families input the name of their sperm bank and their donor number, and see if there are any links with donors or half siblings.
Kramer says it's very rewarding, but she's noticed a few things on her website that she finds alarming, like the number of children seemingly fathered by one sperm donor.
"We do know there are groups of 50, 70, 100 all the way up to 150 children for one sperm donor," Kramer says.
She believes that increases the risk of passing on genetic disorders and poses the risk that a random meeting of half siblings could turn into accidental incest.
"We hear about random and chance meetings all the time on the donor sibling registry," Kramer said.
Kramer believes the sperm bank industry needs to make some big changes.
"Donor anonymity is an archaic practice, and it's something that should be banned," she says.
She also wants the donors' medical histories to be updated over time, and she wants to see some sort of data base that would show if men were donating at multiple sperm banks. But sperm bank directors say this is a complicated issue.