Sperm donor ‘scam’: that’s no vulnerable victim, that’s my sister

Guest post: Super Sister is furious – she’s irate at the way the case of the men behind Fertility 1st has been portrayed and I agree with her. I don’t see any victims in my family, except, perhaps, my nephew Baby G who can’t now get a genetic sibling.
Over to you Super Sister:

(Pic: Beautiful Baby G enjoying one of Granny’s special biscuits)

As I write this, two men face prison sentences for “exploiting women” by illegally making sperm available over the internet.

So I’m an exploited and vulnerable woman am I? Well I don’t really feel it. At the moment I feel like an angry, frustrated, infuriated and cheated woman, but not an exploited one! Fertility 1st was not a scam run by conmen. I would like to try to set the record straight.

Fertility 1st was, apparently, dreamt up over a pint in the pub – like many good business venture to fill a niche in the market. For lots of women, who for whatever reason may not have access to a ready supply of sperm and or would like to have their child conceived without knowing the identity of their donor, this company offered them a real alternative to costly and impersonal regulated fertility clinics

Ricky and Nigel enabled women like me and my wife to select a donor from looking at basic details, all health checks were carried out and suitable donation times were arranged. OK there was a certain amount of trust involved, but then surely there is with any “live” sperm donations. Yes, there were costs involved, but they were a fraction of going to regulated clinics and we could arrange donations at a convenient time in our own home, giving a much more relaxed approach to conception with no medical intervention.

Customer service at Fertility 1st was excellent and I genuinely believe that Ricky and Nigel believe they were offering a service which benefited many women and gave some, like us, a chance to have a family. So they made a profit. Please don’t try to tell me The London Women’s Clinic and the Glasgow Centre Reproductive Medicine and many others aren’t pleased to make a profit?

Baby G is cheeky, giggly, toddling testament to Fertility 1st and whilst we feel blessed to have had the opportunity to have our beautiful boy, we were coming round to the idea that a sibling for him would have been nice (half the nursing home bills, shared genes and at the end of the day siblings are great!) and up until last week there was a real chance of Baby G’s baby sibling having the same donor. Now that chance has been taken from us. I could have accepted that the donor could have pulled out of the programme at any time. I could have accepted that we may never have managed to conceive this time round… but I am so angry that we are not being given the chance because this nanny state we live in has decided that it needs to regulate every aspect of our lives.

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  1. Jo says

    Are match.com et al required to operate as licensed charities too?

    Honestly, the hoops people have to jump through if they can't get pregnant in the conventional way!

    Having said that, I am surprised that they didn't look into the legalities of such a business before they started it – it looks like they were 'sent down' on an easily avoided technicality doesn't it?

    Good luck in your journey to no.2 – genetics are only a small part of what makes a brother :) and BabyG looks like he'd be a fabulous one x

  2. Jo says

    Oh dear, I just read the DM article. What on earth does this mean:

    The case shone a light upon unlicensed fertility services that exploit vulnerable women by offering parenthood at an affordable price.

    How can it be 'exploitation' if it's 'offering parenthood at an affordable price'?

  3. says

    I believe that there has been a great reduction in both egg and sperm donars, now that there names are made avalable. There must be a market ot these men wouldnt have been in business.

  4. says

    Good for you for speaking out!

    The HFEA seems to me to be way out of line. No-one was being misled, and informed adults can make decisions for themselves, without the help of people in white coats with the right letters after their name. They can exaggerate the risks of “unregulated” gamete donation all they want – the fact is that the vast majority of people are conceived without the help of any fertility specialists, and (gasp!) without any STI tests being performed.

    It's not as if the clinics have such a shining record themselves. I've lost count of the number of times the wrong embryos or sperm have been implanted in a woman. That's just in the UK – some of the stories coming out of north America are shocking.

  5. says

    TheMadHouse said…
    “I believe that there has been a great reduction in both egg and sperm donars, now that there names are made avalable. There must be a market ot these men wouldnt have been in business.”

    According to HFEA figures, the numbers of sperm donors have gone up four years in a row since the ending of anonymity, thus reversing a three year decline. The 384 donors in 2008 was the highest figure since 1996, and 160 more than in 2004 just before anonymity ended.


  6. Debbie says

    I read an article which suggested it was the inefficiency of the authorised sources which made it more difficult for donor sperm conceptions to go ahead, rather than any lack of supply.
    Technically, these guys were breaking the law but the idea that people who used their service were victims is risible.
    And I hope the woman who chose to use their service, then reported them because they refused a refund when she failed to conceive (quite correctly since they had fulfilled their end of the bargain), realises what damage she has done to other people's chances of parenthood.
    PS Baby G is a little cracker! xxx

  7. says

    Jo, it's exploiting vulnerable women in the same way Primark is exploiting vulnerable clothes wearers.

    TheMadHouse, you're right there is a market for this service.

    Mark, Even if there is a rise in the number of donors according to the HFEA – a rise of 160 for the whole of the UK is hardly huge compared to the number of people who might like to use donor sperm.
    However, you are right that people use all manner of 'unregulated' means to get pregnant, surely this is a better option.
    Do you have a personal connection to the issue, you seem very well informed?

    SS, over to you for Mark's last question (if you want).

  8. says

    (1. Guardian link fixed.
    2. I meant to say “HFEA changed the rules” rather than “HFEA changed the results” earlier btw.
    3. I've tried to post this twice, but it looks like it hasn't gone through, so I've taken two links out.)

    It's arguable whether or not there are enough donors. It looks to me like there are more than enough, but it's definitely wrong to say that the new rules on anonymity resulted in a drop in the numbers of sperm donors.

    This recent article is very interesting, and suggests that the supposed shortage may be due to problems with distribution on the part of the clinics:

    There doesn't seem to be any shortage for people paying for private treatment btw. About a year ago, the London Women's Clinic alone was claiming to have over ten thousand vials available.

    I do indeed have a personal connection. I was a clinic sperm donor in the 80's, and also have a daughter as a private sperm donor for a friend. I've become progressively more informed of the wishes of donor-conceived people, and the frequent and serious failings of the banks and clinics, some of which are quite mind-boggling.

    I believe in the rights of donor-conceived people, and also moderate two Yahoo groups.

  9. SS says

    Thanks for all the comments.
    Jo & Debbie,
    The service wasn't illegal until the HFEA was set up in 2008 and this is the first test case under the HFEA Act.
    They grey area around regulation (and thus anonymity) had been that it only related to frozen and stored sperm – and not the fresh stuff.
    Our main reason around choosing this option was to have an anonymous donor – it was very important for us. There are of course other options open to us now, and I guess we will go back to the drawing board and come up with plan b, c, or d.
    Completely agree on the donor numbers. I think in Scotland at one stage (or perhaps just Lothian) there was only one donor available!!!

    I was in no way looking for sympathy from this post, but appreciate the kind thoughts and feelt much better having ranted!

  10. says

    The HFEA was set up in 1990, but the law was changed to cover fresh sperm in 2007.

    Anonymous donation was banned (in 2005), because being able to know the identity of the donor is very important to many donor-conceived people. Personally, I think it's unwise to try to circumvent the legislation, as you may have some difficult questions to answer in the years to come.

    Have some of my comments been deleted btw?

  11. says

    SS, thanks.

    Mark, no I haven't deleted any comment. A comment was deleted but by the author – I don't know what it said, was that you?
    Do you work for the HFEA? I'm just wondering what your area of interest is.
    And yes, SS will have questions to answer when Baby G gets older, but that's a common experience of every parent. I already answer questions about why I'm no longer with Boy One and Boy Two's dad. My sister-in-law will answer questions about her husband, my late brother, when her sons grow up. Life is full of hard questions and difficult answers, it's the way they are handled that matters.

  12. Jo says

    It seems odd that HFEA have pursued this, when egg sharing (donating your eggs to other infertile couple in exchange for cut price IVF) is encouraged – I was given a leaflet about egg sharing at my very first NHS fertility appointment. While I think egg donation is a wonderful thing, I'm not sure that women who are having problems with their own fertility should be offered incentives. I can imagine that it would be very hard to think that you might have biological children living in another family if your own IVF attempts aren't successful. I know that women / couples are still capable of making up their own minds, but to me, this is much more ethically questionable than sperm donation, which I'm sure has gone on since time began in one way or another.

  13. says

    Could you see if you have a spam folder, as I think three comments of mine have slipped through the cracks, and they explain my interest. The middle one posted at 15:35 supersedes the other two. I did delete one comment myself, but only because I'd entered a link incorrectly.

    If you can't find any comments waiting to be approved, let me know and I'll try to repost.

    I've met several donor-conceived people btw, and communicated with lots more online, and some of them are passionately opposed to anonymous donation, even those who were conceived when it was the norm. Your SIL's children may have zero interest in knowing anything about their donor, but if they do, and they ask “who is my donor?”, she won't be able to tell them. She won't be able to answer what for her child might be the most important question. The next question is then likely to be “why can all other donor-conceived people my age know, but not me?” Even if she's planning on not telling them, they seem to have a habit of finding out anyway. I just can't see a downside to an id-release donor.

    Egg-“sharing” is indeed controversial btw for the reasons you point out the financial incentive, and because some women may be unsuccessful themselves, but could still be left wondering if their eggs have helped someone else have children. I know someone in this position, who is now debating yet another round of IVF.

  14. Anonymous says

    Glad to have read this article. As a Fertility 1st donor I really didn't know much about the legal technicalities of the organisation. I was just trying to help out! It was very shocking indeed to discover that they were being investigated and eventually shut down.

    Sorry you won't be able to have a sibling for you beautiful child.

  15. says

    Anonymous, I'm very pleased you wanted to help childless women. It would be great if more people wanted to help. If you'd like to tell the story of your involvement in Fertility First as a guest post, I'd be delighted to give you a forum – anonymously, of course.

  16. Anonymous says

    I'm a little late in replying but as a former customer of Fertility 1st I am very sad to see the nanny state who had been trying to shut them down on any technicality they could find, have finally succeeded and I agree with Debbie, the woman who helped essentially just because they would not give her a refund must be so proud. Thanks to people like her people like me will now probably never have children.
    I used them on several occasions and always found them to be professional and they were most certainly not 'con men' as has been predictably presented by the press. I actually only stopped using them due to a serious illness, but was hoping to use their services again in the future when I recovered. I spent a very long time weighing up my options and researching companies and websites etc before choosing to go with them, and I never had any reason to regret or question it.
    The only 'con men' I have actually come across are the licensed fertility clinics who bled me dry of thousands of pounds, were completely unprofessional and disinterested and who thanks to my being misdiagnosed by the medical profession for thirty years, and losing my job and health, I will never be able to afford again. Fertility 1st did exactly what they claimed they did, and without ripping me off in any way. The fact that they are presented as ripping off desperate women by the prices they charged just goes to show that the people who write these articles have no understanding whatsoever of the costs charged by 'licensed' clinics.

  17. says

    Hi Anonymous, Thanks very much for your comment. I'm so sorry your experiences have been so hard.
    You might like to know that my sister has just had a second baby using donor insemination. Without Fertility 1st it was much more difficult to source an anonymous donor, however, she and her partner managed it. So it is possible, please don't give up.

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