Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby, has only recently marked her 32d birthday. The newspapers had a feast, which makes one wonder: how many postal workers have media reporting on their birthdays every single year? Today, Louise, who lives in Brighton, England, is the mother of a two year-old son.
Brown has managed, in spite of her fame, to lead a rather ordinary life, but her birthday is still newsworthy. That’s because her birth ushered in a new era in the history of human reproduction. While 600 babies are conceived through IVF each year in Ireland, back at the time of Brown’s birth, there was much criticism about the procedure. Many were of the belief that IVF interfered with nature, or with God’s intentions regarding human procreation.
These ethical questions and concerns regarding artificial reproductive techniques (ART) have yet to disappear. Yet a new concern has arisen in the form of websites set up for the purpose of fertility matchmaking. The sites match potential parents with sperm donors. Some fertility experts are expressing concern that these websites exploit customers who are vulnerable due to the intense craving to become parents. These customers put their health and that of their potential babies at risk by paying for sperm that hasn’t undergone the appropriate screening measures.
The websites urge potential parents and donors to register their personal details which are then available for browsing by other members. A typical membership runs £10 a month and £300 to arrange and introduction between potential parents and donors. Donors can indicate whether they’d like to remain anonymous, be in touch with the child after he reaches the age of 18, or perhaps have a role as co-parent. Most donors prefer to remain anonymous.
Helen Brown, chairperson of the National Infertility Support and Information Group (NISIG) believes that couples experiencing infertility should be wary of these sites. Brown sees these websites as predators who exploit single sex couples and unmarried women. They also exploit those who may find it difficult to afford the price of getting a sperm donor to a clinic to have intrauterine insemination (IUI) in a normative fertility clinic, the price of which runs to €600-€800 for each attempt. Brown also comments that while some may think they’re getting a bargain from these websites, the higher price paid at a clinic insures that the sperm is gathered, washed, and checked while the woman receives an ultrasound to insure she is ovulating.