Natural resources are in short supply. Grain, fresh water, oil, natural gas, etc. are in high demand, but found in increasingly dwindling supply in virtually every country in the world. While most everyone is aware of the various dangers associated with running out of these basic staples of life, one natural resource is already more scarce and expensive in many countries than all of the above.
In the United States, anonymous sperm donation is common and donors are easily accessible for anyone interested in starting a family. Single women, same-sex couples, and male/female couples have hundreds of donors to choose from. Sperm banks provide endless amounts of information and online search tools to make the donor selection process as simple and personalized as possible, including:
- A donor’s family medical history
- Audio interviews
- Art projects
Even celebrity look-a-likes are a click away. It is a safe, relatively easy way to make your dreams of parenthood come true.
Around the world, however, things are much different. Although it varies by country, restrictions on the use of donor sperm, who can use donor sperm, donor compensation, donor anonymity, and inconsistent donor screening requirements have left huge numbers of people in many countries without a safe domestic option to build their families.
Thus, a new industry is born…Reproductive Tourism (otherwise known as an “insemination vacation”).
Live in Canada (hardly any donors) or Mexico (donor sperm is illegal) and want to have a baby? You need to cross into the US. There are doctors on both borders who specialize in helping international patients get pregnant stateside. No, your child will not automatically receive dual citizenship if you use a US donor; that goes for the rest of the world as well.
What if you live in Italy or France? You may have to wait a while if you are a married man and woman, but donor sperm is an available option. However, if you are single or a same-sex couple, better book your trip to Belgium, as the government healthcare system will not cater to your needs.
Find yourself in the Middle East in need of donor sperm? Not only is it illegal in most countries, a Turkish physician can actually be fined or imprisoned for treating you if he is aware you used a sperm donor. You are much better off traveling to Israel where safe treatment is easily accessible. In fact, Israel is the single largest exporter of U.S. donor sperm in the world. Second on the list? Chile.
How about the U.K.? On the bright side, access to sperm donors is not necessarily limited by the composition of your family. However, a severe lack of donors due to rules against donor compensation and anonymity have created waiting lists sometimes 1-2 years long with little selection once your turn comes up.
There are certainly many countries around the world with more liberal laws when it comes to importing donor sperm. However, due to a lack of organized and well maintained donor programs, access is still a major issue.
Places like Brazil, Singapore, Russia, and Thailand offer no resistance to their citizens using donor sperm. Unfortunately, it has to be shipped in from the US. With a single vial good for one insemination costing $500-$750, shipping fees $400-$600, and possible importation and customs fees, the financial investment can become a serious burden. Add to that it typically takes 3-4 insemination cycles per successful pregnancy, and the fact that there is no guarantee of ultimate success, and the entire process can become overwhelming regardless of where you live.
Is it all worth it in the end? For some it comes easy. For others it takes years and tens of thousands of dollars. Regardless of the road traveled, for those lucky enough to reach their goal, it is a trip well worth taking.
Scott Brown is the Director of Client Experience for California Cryobank, one of the oldest and largest donor sperm banks in the world.