Alex Tabarrok

The Great Canadian Sperm Shortage

Blog Post created by Alex Tabarrok on Dec 11, 2015

Originally posted on June 18, 2013.

 

Here is a post from Marginal Revolution on Canada’s ban on payments to sperm or egg donors and the predictable results. The example may be considered a bit risque but for those Canadians who are unable to bear children without donors the issue is serious. The example, along with the material on the Oocyte Cartel, linked below, can also be used to discuss the issue of repugnance and why there is a feeling that money should not be used to buy some types of goods (often revolving around the body such as organs, sperm, sex and some foods, e.g. horsemeat.)

 

As I was researching yesterday’s post on The Oocyte Cartel I came across an old MR post from 2003 on plans in Canada to restrict the import of American sperm:

The US is a world leader in sperm exports primarily because sperm banks in the U.S. are run on a for-profit basis. As a result, US sperm is reckoned to be of high quality particularly because the US version comes with a background on the vitals of the donor. Denmark also exports a lot of sperm because of high standards and demand for that blond, blue-eyed look.

Exports to Canada have increased in recent years because of a scandal involving poorly screened Canadian sperm. Canadians also import a lot of US eggs. The Canadian government, however, is apparently miffed as a new law is being readied that would forbid donations involving a paid donor. The law would not only make paid donation illegal in Canada it would make it illegal to use any paid-for sperm. Canadian couples seeking fertility options will suffer and who will benefit? I cannot think that this law is anything but spiteful and ridiculous. Is paying for sperm an original sin?

 

So what happened? In 2004, Canada made it a criminal offense to compensate sperm and egg donors. Loyal readers will not be surprised by the results (as of 2011)

…currently, in the entire country, there are only 35 active sperm donors. Over the last decade, our government has made its donation system so thoroughly unappealing that this ubiquitous fluid is almost impossible to obtain through official channels. There is a single operating sperm bank in all of Canada.

…If 35 national donors is an ugly statistic for the most removed observer, it’s especially devastating for the women and couples who have come to rely on our lone sperm bank in order to have a child.

 

Ironically, it’s been easier to prevent payments to Canadian donors than it has been to police sperm and egg imports because it is still technically legal to use paid-for sperm just not to buy sperm. As a result, the importation of US sperm has increased:

Patients here obtain more than 90% of semen from the United States, and the federal government appears to turn a blind eye to the fact they buy it from mostly for-profit sperm banks — a criminal offence in this country.

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