Whatever you think about the British, we have a well-earned reputation for munificence. Rattle a collection tin under our noses and we reach for our wallets with relish. At times of international disaster Brits do what Brits do best - we dip in and hand out, irrespective of the cost.
And so it has been for many years even in that most delicate philanthropic area of life -- the lottery of human reproduction itself. The natural female instinct for childbirth has, with a little help from modern science, also been adequately met by the regular donations of our men folk. In fact the balance sheets of Britain's sperm banks have always stayed positively in the black.
That is until now. Now supplies are literally drying up. Six years ago, 325 new willing males registered with the Government's Human Fertilization Authority. That sort of number was pretty well on target to meet regular annual demand. But last year new donors suddenly started to dwindle. Just 99 came forward in the first 6 months.
Why so few? One compelling explanation is a change in the law which kicked in last year at precisely the same time that so many donors disappeared. Under the new rules any children born of donated eggs or sperm have the right to know who their natural parents were. So eighteen years later Mr. Anonymous, who thought he was doing something public-spirited but entirely private, risks a total stranger knocking on his door and calling him Daddy.
That might be fair if it worked both ways. But it doesn't. The law gives the right to the offspring to trace Dad. Dad, on the other hand, is doomed to remain completely in the dark. It was a controversial piece of legislation all the way, and now the results are coming home to roost.
Fertilization clinics are in trouble. Medics and campaigners are calling it a crisis. The largesse of a whole nation is in jeopardy. Britain's sperm donors are no longer ... giving generously.
by Ed Boyle
Copyright 2006 CBS. All rights reserved.