The Great Canadian Sperm Shortage

by on June 18, 2013 at 7:14 am in Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

As I was researching yesterday’s post on The Oocyte Cartel I came across an old MR post from 2003 on plans in Canada to restrict the import of American sperm:

The US is a world leader in sperm exports primarily because sperm banks in the U.S. are run on a for-profit basis. As a result, US sperm is reckoned to be of high quality particularly because the US version comes with a background on the vitals of the donor. Denmark also exports a lot of sperm because of high standards and demand for that blond, blue-eyed look.

Exports to Canada have increased in recent years because of a scandal involving poorly screened Canadian sperm. Canadians also import a lot of US eggs. The Canadian government, however, is apparently miffed as a new law is being readied that would forbid donations involving a paid donor. The law would not only make paid donation illegal in Canada it would make it illegal to use any paid-for sperm. Canadian couples seeking fertility options will suffer and who will benefit? I cannot think that this law is anything but spiteful and ridiculous. Is paying for sperm an original sin?

So what happened? In 2004, Canada made it a criminal offense to compensate sperm and egg donors. Loyal readers will not be surprised by the results (as of 2011)

…currently, in the entire country, there are only 35 active sperm donors. Over the last decade, our government has made its donation system so thoroughly unappealing that this ubiquitous fluid is almost impossible to obtain through official channels. There is a single operating sperm bank in all of Canada.

…If 35 national donors is an ugly statistic for the most removed observer, it’s especially devastating for the women and couples who have come to rely on our lone sperm bank in order to have a child.

Ironically, it’s been easier to prevent payments to Canadian donors than it has been to police sperm and egg imports because it is still technically legal to use paid-for sperm just not to buy sperm. As a result, the importation of US sperm has increased:

Patients here obtain more than 90% of semen from the United States, and the federal government appears to turn a blind eye to the fact they buy it from mostly for-profit sperm banks — a criminal offence in this country.

Addendum: Some readers may find all this talk of sex and sperm to be risque but do remember this is a family-friendly blog.

HR June 18, 2013 at 8:55 am

Well! Readers may also be interested in the hilarious 2011 Canadian film “Starbuck,” about a man who fathered 500 children via sperm donation. I recommend the film highly.
http://www.npr.org/2013/03/28/175283226/for-533-kids-starbuck-is-one-prolific-pere

In 2010, when they were writing the Starbuck script, Ken Scott and Martin Petit were worried no one would believe the premise that a sperm donor could discover 20 years later that he had 150 children. But suddenly there were stories everywhere. In 2011 a single donor was said to have fathered 150 offspring. In 2012 the owner of a High IQ British fertility clinic, one Bertold Wiesner, was revealed to have fathered as many as 600 children, while keeping his donations a secret even from his wife. He was rather proud of his own genetic material and thought it would be good for England for there to be more men like him. Another donor to the clinic, a neurochemist named Derek Richter, fathered 100 of the children. Also in April a German man said he’d fathered 82 children through sperm donation, though he donated them the old fashioned way.

Apparently the film itself is reproducing as well as producing. It was a top grossing film in Quebec last year, did very well on the festival circuit (People’s choice award at Toronto film festival 2011, won Vancouver Film Festival Award 2011, Audience award at Sundance, 2012), and is being made into a movie also directed by Ken Scott, and starring Vince Vaughn. It’s going to be called “The Delivery Man.” Oct 4. There’s also going to be a French and an Indian remake.

Writer-Director Ken Scott has written some good films but this is only his second feature film – the first was a heist movie called “Sticky Fingers,” 2009.

The film is very smart in its allusions. The name Starbuck is not from the Pequod but the name of a legendary Canadian sire (1979-1998) with exceptional genetics, who revolutionized Holstein breeding worldwide and sold $25 million in bull semen. From the Canadian Encyclopedia: In May 1979, two sire analysts from the Center for Artificial Insemination travelled to Ontario to sign mating contracts with Holstein breeders; they were also looking for new young sires. Late one afternoon, after a long day on the road east of Toronto, they discovered a young sire, born a month earlier, “displaying an exceptional stature, captured their interest. …The first Starbuck daughters started to calve in Quebec in 1983 and their owners were greatly impressed by their traits. They showed lots of style and height, as well as tremendous legs and high quality udders. Quebec breeders began using Starbuck semen on a very large scale. Throughout his career, Starbuck sired over 200 000 daughters, 209 proven sons and 406 proven grandsons worldwide. Overall, more than 685 000 Starbuck semen doses were sold in 45 countries.

dearieme June 18, 2013 at 8:56 am

Well at least you called it “sperm”.

Andrew' June 18, 2013 at 9:04 am

Holey condoms Batman! They are family friendly!

Careless June 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I wonder what percentage of the readership will get Alex’s point without this post.

Also, I’m reminded of the fact that this blog is banned on elementary school networks.

Careless June 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Also, aren’t both these guys childless?

Andrew' June 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Some people think Batman and Robin are gay lovers.

Careless June 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm

You’ll live long enough for that to become cannon.

JWatts June 18, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I’m guessing that will leave Catwoman and Batgirl as a couple, also.

Bill June 18, 2013 at 9:37 am

In the tradition of MR, you hid the lead: that what Canadians did was not ban free donations as such–a US person who contributed to a sperm bank could make a free donation–but it banned paying for the sperm AFTER some firm had undertaken the costs of inspection and freezing the firm.

What this really is is a story about Canadian protectionism. They set up rules protecting a local sperm bank.

You know the distinction between free donation, and purchase of the donated product AFTER ancillary services have been attached to it. So, if I give blood the the Red Cross for free, and the Red Cross sells the stored blood to the hospital, you could imagine there would not be many sales of stored blood to Canada if Canada treated blood the same as sperm.

Bill June 18, 2013 at 9:56 am

“freezing the sperm”, not “freezing the firm”, although you could freeze the sperm by freezing the firm.

Pseudo Register June 18, 2013 at 10:00 am

I’m pretty sure that international transfers of blood products, with the exception of products used to make derivatives and the derivatives themselves (such as Factor VIII anti-hemophilia injectibles) is virtually nil. The US blood banking industry is certainly not in a position availability-wise to export blood to Canada. Given donation patterns in the US (and assuming those are something if a model for patterns in Canada) I’d expect the reverse.

Except that blood products are regulated by the FDA in part 600 of 21 CFR, and also as a drug in part 211. They have pretty strict donor requirements. For example, homosexuals may donate blood in Canada but not in the US.

Bill June 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

So, the blood marmket is different than the sperm market, in that blood is in short supply here. Are you saying there would not be sperm exports if the Canadians denied free donated sperm to a sperm bank but which then charged for its freezing and incidental services because those services had to be donated also?

Bill June 18, 2013 at 11:53 am

Psuedo, To make it clearer, the basic point I am making is that Alex framed the storey as free donation of sperm, rather than market payment for sperm, led to less sperm donations. But, that wasn’t the point: what the Canadians did was go one step further: they required that a firm that got free donations of sperm, but which CHARGED for services (freezing, inspection, etc) couldn’t sell, but could only donate, sperm. Big difference.

You will also note that the Canadian firm which provides “donated sperm” is a fertility clinic…which means that it is the one charging for sperm, but indirectly via the services they offer. So, what we really have here is Canadian protectionism for the clinic.

As a protest, just as US citizens transport cheaper Canadian drugs to the US, next time I travel to Canada I plan to “make a donation” in protest and leave it in the hotel’s mini-bar freezer and invite guests to use it to get fertile.

Hail Canada.

Ricardo June 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

Are the offspring of the imports considered American citizens?

Urso June 18, 2013 at 10:46 am

Extraordinary question!

Rahul June 18, 2013 at 11:18 am

Doesn’t USA have jus soli? Even if Canadian parents bore birth in here, he’d still be a US citizen. Delivery matters, not conception.

Ben June 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

The USA has jus soli *and* jus sanguinis. It really is an interesting legal question.

Ben June 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I did a little research. According to p. 4 of the Dept of State Foreign Affairs Manual, Vol. 7, the answer is yes. The offspring can be considered Amercian citizens with sufficient records from “appropriate medical authorities,” such as hospital records from the sperm donation facility and blood tests.

So this could result in an interesting plot to undermine anti-immigrationists by encouraging mass donations of American sperm as much as possible, including in foreign donation banks. Any and all descendants from any and all inseminations would be considered American!

Ben June 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm
kayley June 27, 2013 at 11:13 am

This is not correct. Case law in the immigration area has established for a long time that men can only transmit American citizenship to their children born in wedlock. For out of wedlock children the man has to prove that there have been a parent-child permanent and continuous relationship clearly and unambiguously eatablished. Given that children of sperm donors are out of wedlock and lack an unambiguous parent child relationship with the donor they don’t have a right to American citizenship.

Careless June 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Yeah, you’re really going to get Steve Sailer by having white guys donate sperm to white women in Europe and Canada who later apply for US citizenship. He’d be crushed.

Nathan W June 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

I wonder if they could all be chased down for American tax liabilities while they were at it too

prior_approval June 18, 2013 at 9:55 am

Not only do Canadians need to import paid for sperm, apparently they also import children –

‘ Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has released Canada’s international adoption statistics for 2009.

In the ups and downs of intercountry adoption we reached a new high in 2009: 2,122 children from abroad found adoptive homes in Canada.’ http://www.familyhelper.net/news/101025stats.html

And considering that buying children is still restricted by Canadian law, just imagine how many deserving Canadian adoptive parents are being deprived of the opportunity to go on the open market to satisfy their needs.

JWatts June 18, 2013 at 11:23 am

Or phrased a different way, imagine how many orphans are living in underfunded and understaffed orphanages when they could be adopted by Canadian families who would be able to spend far more time, attention and love on these deserving children.

Careless June 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm

You know, I’m stuck wondering how many women would get knocked up if they could sell their babies. I suspect the number is huge.

David June 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

Oh oh oh Canada

Hazel Meade June 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

From my experiences growing up in Canada, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Canadians were afraid of their gene pool being contaminated by American sperm. They seem to regard Americanization as a kind of disease.

Joe Smith June 18, 2013 at 10:57 am

There was a general move in Canada against assisted reproduction lead by a few ideologues calling themselves specialists in the ethics of reproduction.

Tony June 18, 2013 at 11:44 am

If there is a gene that predisposes men to donate to sperm banks, and maybe another gene that predisposes women to use sperm banks… make a few assumptions based on the heritability of other behavioural characteristics, and there’s some interesting evolutionary equilibria to calculate there.

Jacob A. Geller June 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

I’m curious about the scandal involving “poorly screened” sperm, because I don’t see how that would be related to compensation. Did compensation cause the poor screening..? The way the 2003 MR post is written, it just looks like a non sequitur to go from “the sperm was poorly screened!” to “you’re a criminal if you compensate donors!”

Max June 18, 2013 at 11:58 am

You know there is a cheap alternative to the sperm bank for fertile women.

Andrew' June 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Cheap? You could probably get a round of Putt-Putt out of the deal.

Silas Barta June 18, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Wow. Imagine a hundred years ago telling someone that government policy encouraged foreigners over domestic in fathering domestic children.

Didn’t people used to fight wars to prevent exactly that?

Hazel Meade June 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm

One could argue that was the origin of warfare itself.

FC June 18, 2013 at 5:25 pm

It’s an American conspiracy to sap and impurify Canadians’ precious bodily fluids.

Al June 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Every sperm is sacred- every sperm is great. If ever a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Tarrou June 19, 2013 at 9:15 am

Sooo, new business opportunity! As a fertile michigander of above-average height and intelligence, I feel I am well placed to enter the glamorous world of international spunk smuggling! Now taking applications, please include weight, height, IQ and motility. Business motto: “From our loins to you!”.

Will June 19, 2013 at 10:46 am

ah hah…this might work…if offspring of American sperm are US citizens, but grow up in liberal canada, then get to vote in US elections…this may be a great combination!! :)

elkh1 June 19, 2013 at 3:26 pm

President Sperm.

Jonathan Silber June 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Well, now we know there’s at least one job Americans are still willing do.

Kailer June 19, 2013 at 3:17 pm

it’s in you to give.

Israel P. June 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

If the sperm is found to be purchased will they force the mother to have an abortion? Or kill the child if it has already been born?

Jonathan Silber June 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Does a prospective donor require an advanced degree, or will hands-on
experience do the trick?

elkh1 June 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Canada should outlaw all sperms/eggs donations. Let in more immigrants. Allah is Great!

Karl June 20, 2013 at 8:58 am

Oddly enough, in Canada it’s perfectly legal to exchange sex for money. But you can’t exchange sperm for money.

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