Japanese women turn to shady online ‘donors’ to get pregnant
The high cost and strict regulations on those who are eligible to receive fertility treatment in Japan has led to the emergence of “entrepreneurs” providing sperm over the internet.
But doctors specialising in fertility treatment and the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology are warning that Internet sperm donors are invariably unregistered and unregulated and, therefore, as likely to cause a woman seeking to get pregnant problems rather than solutions.
“If a patient was to ask our advice, we would say that it is very important to check the medical history of the donor, to make sure that he does not have HIV, for example,” said Dr Yasushi Odawara, director of the Fertility Clinic Tokyo.
“But if someone obtains sperm over the Internet, there is no way of knowing the donor’s medical history, and that can be a major problem.”
Dr Odawara insisted that unregistered sperm donors “is not actually a large problem”, but agreed that demand from women who want to become mothers is increasing in Japan. And that means new opportunities internet donors.
Under the society’s regulations, women who are not in a relationship are not eligible to receive fertility treatment at a Japanese clinic, while its rules on unmarried couples similarly being barred from receiving assistance were only recently relaxed.
The long waiting lists for assistance are also being worsened by Japanese women getting married much later in life, which is reducing their chances of getting pregnant.
Japan’s fertility rate - the average number of children that a woman will give birth to - hit a historic low of 1.26 in 2005. That figure has recovered to 1.42, but remains well below the figure required to keep the national population from both ageing and contracting dramatically.
A study released this week by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare suggests that the nation’s present population of 127.09 million will shrink to 88.08 million by 2065.
In addition, the number of medical institutions registered with the society and offering artificial insemination procedures has fallen from 26 in 2003 to just seven today. At the same time, high prices can be too much for many young couples to bear, with egg collection at one Tokyo clinic costing Y15,000 (HS$10,642) a time and insemination a further Y100,000 (HK$7,094).
Given the financial, regulatory and time barriers that they face, there is little wonder that Japanese women are looking for alternative sources of sperm.
In an investigative report into online sperm banks, the Asahi newspaper cited the case of a woman in her late 20s who had no wish to have a relationship with a man yet wanted to be a mother.
Ineligible for assistance from a recognised medical institution, the woman contacted an online sperm donor, met the operator of the service in person and expressed belief that “he had sufficient empathy with her situation.”
She also learned that the owner of the site was the provider of the sperm.
On around 10 occasions over the following year, the woman injected herself with the man’s sperm but was unable to conceive. Becoming increasingly desperate, she agreed to have sex with the man until she became pregnant.
The donor, who is in his 40s and is married, said he started the web site seven years ago but keeps it secret from his wife. He told the Asahi that he has no children with his wife, but did want a child outside of his marriage. To date, he said, he has donated sperm free of charge to 28 women.