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Mad Cow Rules Hit Sperm Banks' Patrons

Because of U.S. import rules, Julie Peterson has gone to Denmark to try to conceive a second child with sperm from her preferred donor.
Because of U.S. import rules, Julie Peterson has gone to Denmark to try to conceive a second child with sperm from her preferred donor. (Courtesy Of Julie Peterson)
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Because of the pending petition, the FDA refused to discuss the restrictions, which recommend against importing sperm from any donor who has lived in the United Kingdom or France for more than three months, or elsewhere in Europe for more than five years, since 1980. But some experts defend the guidelines, saying that while the risk is probably small, women have other options.

"I don't see it as a big negative," said Jacob Mayer, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. Mayer noted that if transmission occurred, it could affect not only the mother but also the child.

"You have to worry about the next generation," Mayer said. "I think most people would tell you they want this to be as safe as possible both for themselves and their offspring, and they'd want to eliminate any possible risk."

Other experts noted that spreading the disease by sperm has never been documented, even among regular sexual partners of people with the illness.

"The restriction is really arbitrary," said Charles Sims, medical director of the California Cryobank. "I did a review of the world literature, and we could not find any support for it. There's no record of any transmission this way. It's restricted because the FDA made an administrative decision to regulate all tissues on the same standards."

"You can never say never, but it seems like a very remote possibility," said David Ball, laboratory director at Seattle Reproductive Medicine, who helps set standards for fertility clinics for the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. "There are a lot of people in the field who would question the utility of the regulation as it now stands."

Peterson had her first child with sperm she bought from Cryos, which began importing Danish sperm in 2001. But Cryos ran out of Peterson's donor and now has fewer than 200 vials of sperm from other Danish donors.

"We have just a few crumbs left," said Claus Rodgaard, who runs the bank. He said Cryos has more than 100 patients on a waiting list for its most popular donors, who use pseudonyms including "Dane," "Finn" and "Oluf."

Because there is no shortage of sperm from American donors, the biggest outcry has come from women seeking more exotic donors or those with a clear genetic lineage, as well as from women, such as Peterson, who want to have another child using the same donor as before.

"I'm Swedish-Norwegian and really wanted to have a gene pool that was similar to my own," Peterson said. "I wanted a baby that looked like me and wanted to share my heritage with my baby. Now I have a beautiful Viking baby, which is what I wanted. I was hoping to give her a full sibling."

After Peterson found out she could not get more sperm from the same donor from Cryos, she flew twice to Copenhagen to be inseminated with sperm from the donor. She did not get pregnant on the first try, and a pregnancy from the second one ended in miscarriage. Peterson, a chiropractor, thinks this week's attempt will be her last.

"It's a huge commitment both financially and with my time. I have to close my practice and go to a totally different country. But I'm committed to having my daughter have the same father if I can. But I don't know how many times I can do this if a baby doesn't come with this one."

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