New Zealand Is Cock Blocking Its Sperm Donors

Across the world, countries are having a hard time filling their sperm banks.

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Sep 29 2016, 10:00am

Image: Zappys/Flickr

Remember when Vince Vaughn fathered 593 children via anonymous sperm donations in The Delivery Man? That's more than seven times the available man seed in all of New Zealand right now.

In 2004, New Zealand changed its reproductive laws to better promote the "health, safety, dignity, and rights of all individuals," ultimately banning anonymous sperm donations and prohibiting donors from receiving any compensation for giving away sperm. Kiwi men now have to be okay with both going through rigorous medical exams and extensive paperwork for zero dollars in return, and allowing any potential offspring to have access to their identity when they turn 18.

As one might expect, in the last decade, the number of sperm donors has fallen drastically in line with those strict policies, while those of would-be recipients soared. Wait times for sperm donations can be more than two years.

There are currently only enough donors in New Zealand to treat 80 families (with up to 10 families per donor), but the demand is at least four times that. And while New Zealand saw its population increase to 4.69 million in 2016, it was largely because of a surge in migration, not births in the country.

New Zealand's sperm crisis isn't unique. In the last five years, Australia, China, Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom and others have all experienced critical domestic sperm droughts. To blame: similar disincentivizing laws, coupled with a rise in single women and same-sex couples seeking donations.

A poster in the London underground asks for more sperm donors. Image: Stephanie Mousse/Flickr

Dr. John Peek, who manages New Zealand's largest fertility clinic, Fertility Associates, told me that about half of the country's donors are now "personal donors" who choose to give to a particular couple or female friend.

"Most donors can empathize with people needing donor sperm because they themselves value having children and parenting," he said. "Or they know people who are experiencing infertility and want to help others."

Strict laws may work for some charitable gents, but overall, they're a real cock block.

"Globally, demand is much bigger than supply even when donations remain anonymous," said Ole Schoule, who runs the Denmark's self-proclaimed "world's largest sperm bank" Cryos International. "Removing anonymity just makes it even more unbalanced."

By contrast, most donors in the United States have the option to keep their identity a secret, and can earn up to $1,500 a month for 2-3 weekly submissions. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of American donors say they're driven purely by the cash incentive — and a lot of them (anywhere from 50 to 90 percent) are broke college students.

"Donating sperm and donating blood are the same thing. It's all about giving back to society."

In China, men aren't as easy to lure. There's a deep-seated cultural hesitancy around becoming a donor — traditional Chinese medicine associates high levels of semen with strength and vitality — even with incentives that range from thousands of dollars to a free iPhone. And with this year's end of the one-child policy, sperm demand is far outpacing supply.

"Show your compassion. Help mitigate the country's aging problem," begged one Chinese state-run site this year, as The New York Times reported, while a sperm bank urged, "Donating sperm and donating blood are the same thing. It's all about giving back to society."

So what are desperately undersupplied countries doing to alleviate the problem? Outsourcing.

Less than 10 percent of Canada's sperm is domestic, and Australia and England rely heavily on imported goods from the U.S. and Denmark (the world's two largest exporters of sperm, shipping to more than 80 countries worldwide).

So why all the panic in New Zealand? Any imported sperm must come from donors who meet the same standards New Zealand imposes on its own (non-anonymous, donated to 10 families or fewer, and uncompensated), and that's a near impossible find. While women have the option of seeking fertility treatment overseas — all-too-pleasantly dubbed "reproductive tourism" — the journeys can be expensive and laden with international red tape.

Read more: Introducing Designer Babies: Sperm Edition

"Since many clinics abroad use anonymous donors, the child will likely have limited information about their biological father," says Dr. Peek "And the number of donor children can be large [in countries with a higher donor-to-family limit]. It could be psychologically challenging to have 20, 30, or more half-siblings."

A change to the import law is currently under review, but Peek sees little hope for fixing the country's drought anytime soon.

"If we continue to allow only New Zealand donors, then the attitude to donation will need to change to alleviate the shortage," he told Motherboard. "That's unlikely from experience over the past 30 years."

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