Brokering sale of sperm over the Internet and right of children born through the process to trace their biological fathers are among the issues to come up for ruling in the UK courts in the coming days.
In a test case, Nigel Woodforth, 42, and Ricky Gage, 48, are being prosecuted for acting as brokers in the sale of 'fresh' semen from anonymous donors.
AdvertisementThe duo, from Reading, ran a website called Sperm Direct.
They are believed to have helped up to 700 women.
They are charged with 'procuring' gametes (sperm or eggs) other than in pursuance of a licence under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
The case was referred to the police by the HFEA after a female customer complained about the service.
It is illegal to 'procure, test, process or distribute' eggs or sperm to be used for human application without a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
The watchdog claims the law includes organisations controlling the supply or transport of sperm or eggs.
But online suppliers say they do not need to be licensed because they merely act as agents who do not deal directly with the sperm samples, but merely introduce women to potential donors.
Tony Connell, prosecuting, told Westminster magistrates' court: 'The defendants were running a website which puts together females who wish to purchase sperm for artificial insemination with males who wish to donate sperm.
'The practice itself is not unlawful. What is unlawful is to do it without a licence from the HFEA.
'The law was passed in July 2007. Over the course of the next two months, the HFEA were in touch on a number of occasions with the defendants to inform them that they needed a licence, but for a variety of reasons no such licence was applied for.'
Catherine McMaster, defending, said: 'There is a need for a licence [from the HFEA], but only if you are dealing with frozen gametes, but this is not the case with my clients.'
A spokesman for the HFEA said: 'In licensed clinics, donor sperm and eggs are subject to rigorous quality checks. Patients using unlicensed services do so at their own risk.'
Besides they also promised to guarantee donors' anonymity. Now that runs afoul of amendments enabling children born from registered frozen sperm to trace their biological father when they turn 18. The duo argue the law does not apply to unregistered 'fresh' samples and hence the anonymity clause in their transaction was fully justified.
Last year, fertility experts said Britain was facing a sperm donor shortage after a change in the law stripped them of their right to anonymity.
Around 4,000 UK patients need donor sperm each year, which requires a minimum of 500 new donors to meet demand.
But in 2006 there were only 307 new registrations.
District Judge Caroline Tubbs refused jurisdiction in the case, and the pair will be tried at Crown Court. They were granted unconditional bail.