Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Danes become the world's top sperm donors

GREAT DANES Childless couples can browse the details of men with aliases like Gorm, Olaf and Thor. But what is it that makes their semen so popular?


Danes are spreading their genes around the world faster than ever aided by exports from local firm Cryos International, the world's biggest sperm bank.

Each year Danish men donate sperm that contributes to around 1,000 pregnancies, and with increasing demand from Americans, Cryos has opened its first New York office -- on Broadway.

Thousands of men visit Cryos' three Danish donation centres, most of them students. They are paid 250 Danish crowns (US$40.50) for each donation.

Visiting the donor room is not enough to qualify, though -- only around 10 percent of the donations are of high enough quality to pass Cryos' qualifications.

Childless couples can browse through about 250 successful donors on Cryos' US Web site, under Viking aliases such as Birk, Gorm, Olaf and Thor alongside a curriculum vitae which lists hair and eye colour, height, education and professional details.

Cryos, which has currently accepts only Danish donators, exports to 40 countries. Within a year or two, Indian, Asian and African men will also be able to donate to Cryos, when it launches a global franchise.

Why does Denmark, with its 5.3 million people, donate more sperm than any other country?

Good technology and social acceptance, says Cryos founder and chief executive Ole Schou.

"We have developed a technique where at least 30 percent become pregnant after the first treatment. Most other donation centres can't reach more than 10 percent," he explained.

A highly secularized country, Denmark has removed many taboos which make donations awkward in other countries, Schou said. The same could be said of other Nordic countries and might explain why one third of the world's sperm industry is found in the region.

But this position is under threat.

In Norway there are no private insemination clinics and very few men donate semen. Since the country passed a law in November banning anonymous donations, even these will stop, Schou said.

"This is only wishful thinking to help the child. The reality is that when anonymity goes, so do the donors," he said.

Finnish men have become less keen on donating semen amid concerns that their right to anonymity is at stake since fertility treatment legislation was put to parliament a year ago, which would have given children an unconditional right to gain information about the donor.

It was pulled prior to general elections before a decision was made and is awaiting debate in parliament.

Around 10-15 percent of couples worldwide are involuntarily childless, a third because of physical problems with the man. Apart from insemination, male infertility remedies include testosterone injections and ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), where only one healthy sperm is needed.

Sweden opened its donor files in 1985 after a court case deemed a child fatherless when the biological mother conceived a baby through insemination without the father's consent and he rejected any legal relationship when the couple separated.

Norway followed the Swedish model when it passed its law. Schou said that 500 to 800 Swedish couples travel abroad every year for insemination -- mostly to Denmark -- because of the lack of donors.

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