International Differences in Gamete Donor Limits

Khue Tran Minh Hua shows that concerns about consanguinity and intergenerational transmission of genetic disease are not the only reasons for low or high gamete donor limits.

Over the last three months, I have been conducting research on the ways that gamete donor limits are governed around the world. The increasing use of assisted reproductive technologies raises concerns about whether there should be limits on the number of times one person’s reproductive material can be donated and used for another person’s reproductive purposes.

My research reveals that there are significant differences between countries in the number offspring that can be created from one gamete donor, or the number of recipients that can use gametes from a single donor. For instance, some countries, like the Netherlands, Germany, and India, have high limits, ranging from 10 to 25 offspring per donor, which allows people from these and other countries easy access to reproductive technologies. Others countries have very low limits; in Vietnam and Taiwan, donors can only provide eggs or sperm to one recipient. Still other countries, like Canada, have no legislated limits at all.

International University, Vietnam National University

International University, Vietnam National University

Despite the difference in limits between countries, where there are limits, they are often justified using the same arguments. Professional associations and legislatures making these guidelines and/or laws, state that the limits will prevent consanguinity (i.e., romantic involvement amongst people with common ancestors) and the intergenerational transmission of certain genetic disorders.

Though arguments about consanguinity and genetic disease are used to justify donor limits in the abstract, other practical issues appear to influence the significant differences in donor limits. For example, the influence of culture and tradition may come into play. In Eastern countries, great importance is often placed on a child’s origin. Children born from donor gametes may be treated differently from others, within society and within their own families. In some Eastern traditions, using a gamete donor is seen as unnatural, and destructive to family relationships. Similar influences are less apparent in Western traditions.

Low donor limits may be explained by concerns surrounding population density. For instance, Vietnam and Taiwan – both of which have explicit family planning policies to limit their population and an exceptionally high population density – are countries with low donor limits, namely one recipient per donor. The link is particularly clear with Vietnam’s family planning policy. Concerned about an explosion in population density, the Vietnamese government encourages each family to have no more than two children. Vietnamese citizens seem to be receptive to this family planning policy; they understand the government’s rationale and are satisfied with having only two children. As such, Vietnam’s low gamete donor limit lines up with its family planning and aligns with its population density objectives.

High donor limits may be explained by commercial interests in reproductive tourism and gamete exportation. For example, Denmark, a country with a donor limit of 12 offspring per donor, is a prominent destination for patients seeking sperm donation. In addition, Denmark is known for sperm exportation. Cryos International Sperm Bank in Denmark is the world’s largest network of sperm banks, and exports sperm to more than 70 countries around the world.

Another country with a high donor limit is India, where the gamete donor limit is 10 offspring per donor. India is a major destination for reproductive tourism, especially IVF, egg-donor IVF, and surrogacy. India’s high gamete donor limit enables Indian donors to benefit from gamete donation, while also developing reproductive tourism.

Given my current research on donor gamete limits, it seems that consanguinity and genetic disease cannot fully explain why different countries choose certain donor limits. Upon closer examination, the reasons for these donor limits are much more complex and based on cultural, social, and commercial concerns.

During my research, I have encountered several obstacles, including: finding relevant documents; accessing English translations of these documents; figuring out the legal status of these documents; and comparing the different limits on gamete donations.

More research needs to be done to fully understand the influence of socio-cultural factors beyond those I’ve identified.

Khue Tran Minh Hua is a third-year student at International University – Vietnam National University in the Department of Biotechnology. She was a MITACS Globalink Intern at Novel Tech Ethics for three months.

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