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Canadians answer sperm call

The Australian, Australia's national Newspaper, by Paula Beauchamp, July 9, 2004

CANADIAN students could fly into Australia on sperm donor "holidays" and pocket a trip worth $7,000 for their trouble.

Authorities have given a green light to the plan after a six-month investigation, in a bid to overcome a domestic sperm drought.

Reproductive Medicine Albury advertised the two-week trips downunder through a University of Calgary newspaper in December.

Under the plan, students would donate sperm every second day while enjoying a Murray River holiday in Albury-Wodonga.

The holiday package, valued at $7000, includes return airfares, accommodation for two weeks and a daily allowance of $150.

"We have advertised locally but with little success and for that reason find it necessary to search further from our own region," the ad in the sports section of The Gauntlet read.

"We have many women and couples whose hopes of having children may never be fulfilled due to the severe shortage of sperm donors."

The clinic has since been inundated with responses - from as far afield as Ukraine and Russia.

National Health and Medical Research Council licensing committee chairman Professor Jock Findlay said the plan was investigated to ensure it didn't amount to "trading in sperm".

Under the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act it is illegal to commercially trade in human sperm. NHMRC investigators found the offer did not breach the law.

"If the clinic was going to pay more than the bare expenses necessary that would have posed a problem," Professor Findlay said.

"Investigators found this offer amounted to reimbursement for legitimate expenses."

Professor Findlay said it wasn't NHMRC's role to approve or allow the IVF initiative, but to establish whether it breached the law.

Melbourne visitor, Canadian backpacker Steve Greatrex, yesterday welcomed the offer.

"I know heaps of guys who'd do this," he said, before asking for the IVF clinic's contact details for friends.

"I know guys who really want to come to Australia. But what's so special about guys from Calgary?" the 25-year-old from Ottawa asked.

It is believed RMA chose Calgary because one of its gynecologists came from the city and could organise necessary health checks.

IVF doctor Scott Giltrap said RMA would run another donor recruitment drive locally before putting the Canadian plan into play.

Victorian and NSW IVF clinics have seen sperm donor numbers dwindle in the past five years.

Fertility Society of Australia spokesman Professor Peter Illingworth said laws allowing children to know the name of donor parents at age 18 had sparked the drought.

"I'm really defeatist about it," he said. "We are now unable to treat many couples, especially those from a background where the stigma of open sperm donation is too much."

But Infertility Treatment Authority CEO Helen Szoke said it was difficult to attract donors even if donor registers weren't kept.

"We have to look at the consequences. What are the rights of a child born of donor sperm? They didn't have any say. They didn't give consent," she said. "We need to think about new ways to encourage people to donate."

Monash IVF and Melbourne IVF said donor numbers had dropped.

Ballarat IVF spokeswoman Katrina Dowling said the clinic had never had any sperm donors.

She hoped a recent advertising campaign for donors would prove successful.