Could making donor sperm more accessible increase birth rates across the EU?

Birth rates across the EU have been steadily declining since the 1960’s. The ten countries with the fastest shrinking populations are in the world are in eastern and central Europe, and the live birth rate across the 28 countries is now 1.58 per woman. According to Eurostat, the only countries in Europe whose populations will rise without migration are France, Norway, Ireland and Britain. The rest are predicted by various agencies, including the UN, to decline between now and the year 2050.

In response to these predictions, sperm banks across Europe are calling for the EU to make changes to the regulations currently in place in order to increase birth rates. A number of sperm banks are closing since the new regulations on staffing levels were put in place, and there are concerns that the burdens of EU paperwork are putting added pressure on those that are still open.

The world’s largest sperm bank, Danish firm Cryos, have recently warned the commission that access to donor sperm must be improved if the EU is going to be able to increase its birth rates. In a recent meeting, it was noted: “According to Cryos, the demand has increased by around 500% over recent years, but only 10% of those who need access to medical treatment with donated gametes are receiving it. They noted that population growth in the EU has slowed down and that it is a priority that the rate of childbirth be increased; this objective would be supported by increasing access to donor sperm.”

Some of the other obstacles, which were raised in the meeting, include the legislation in some member states that says the identity of donors must be traceable, which can reduce the number of donors. Another problem is that, in some countries across the EU, sperm is treated as a “good” and therefore liable for VAT. In some countries, the VAT on sperm can be as high as 25%.

Cryos added that the paperwork and legislation required by the EU is making it increasingly difficult for sperm banks, and was reducing the supply. They said: “They noted that many sperm banks closed down after the legislation was adopted … In the view of Cryos, the EU should consider the demand and allow an open single market for sperm. Cryos stated that it was already difficult to recruit adequate numbers of donors but that rules put in place by regulators, eg the dropping of donor anonymity in some member states, had made this situation worse.”

“At least one member state was reported as not allowing distribution of sperm by Cryos on the basis that they have both anonymous and non-anonymous donors. They state that other member states ban the import of gametes to their country from Denmark, even though the EU legislation defines this as ‘distribution’ (ie from a tissue establishment to an organisation responsible for human application) rather than ‘import’. Access to [non-partner] donated sperm is the key challenge in Europe.”

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