China appeals for sperm donors to counter infertility epidemic

China, a nation notorious for stifling fertility with its draconian one-child policy, is now worried about an epidemic of infertility. The head of Guangdong’s family planning commission, Luo Wenzhi, is appealing for sperm donors. “Donating your sperm is healthy,” he told a Chinese newspaper. “It won’t hurt you nor kill you.”

Unfortunately for the image of sperm donation, that is what allegedly happened to a 35-year-old man, Zheng Gang, in the central city of Wuhan who died soon after donating sperm at a clinic run by a local university. The case received great publicity. Furthermore, apart from moral considerations, sperm donation is regarded as squandering one’s virility and tarnishing the family line.

In Guangdong, 14% of couples are said to be infertile. Part of the solution said to be artificial insemination or IVF, but sperm banks are very low on stocks. There is a nine-month wait for donor sperm.

The shortage seems to have spurred corrupt practices. The only sperm bank in Southwest China, in the city of Chongqing, was forced to close in 2009 after a sperm trading scandal. Five members of staff were jailed for selling 1,000 sperm samples, mostly to medical clinics providing unlicensed insemination services.

However, on paper, sperm donation in China is strictly regulated. Each province is allowed to have only one government-run bank. Sperm from a donor can only be used by 5 married women (no singles), even though other countries allow 10. There is a great fear of inadvertent incest among the children of sperm donors. There are cash incentives to donate, but trading in sperm is banned. ~ Time, Sept 6

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