A bioethicist has urged that all male 18-year-olds should freeze their DNA for use later in life because of risks attached with being an older father.
As the DNA in sperm becomes more prone to errors with age, the risk of fathering a child with disorders such as autism and schizophrenia are increased.
Dr Kevin Smith, from Abertay University in Dundee, says sperm-banking on the NHS should “become the norm”. Through the medium of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Dr Smith said even small increases in the risk of disease could have a big effect when scaled up across a whole nation.
He told the BBC: “I think on a society-wide basis, we do need to worry about it – it is a real and pronounced effect. It’s time we took seriously the issue of paternal age and its effects on the next generation of children.”
Unwelcomed by Fertility Doctors
Many fertility doctors greatly disagree with the suggestion, accusing Dr Smith of promoting an unnecessarily artificial approach to paternity. They furthered that the risks of older paternity are small and only becomes an issue when men are well into their forties.
Dr Smith conceded that not everyone would agree with his suggestion. He said: “This approach may appear radical or intuitively unwelcome to some, in that it would entail a wholescale move away from natural conception.”
This is because the banked sperm would be used in an artificial nature when a man decides that they want to father a child later in life, essentially using ‘healthier’ sperm from their younger selves to reduce any risk of disorders.
The current costs to keep sperm privately is £150 – £200, although through the NHS this may possibly be cheaper to implement. Dr Smith was adamant that “sperm banking is a practical solution that could in principle be implemented immediately.”
Professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, strongly disagreed with the idea. He said: “Procreation should not be taken out of the bedroom and into the test-tube unless there are defined fertility problems.
“There should be greater focus in the UK on supporting young couples to establish their careers and relationships and be supported in having children at a young age before the natural decline in both female and male fertility.”
Professor Allan Pacey, a leading expert in male fertility at the University of Sheffield, added: “This is one of the most ridiculous suggestions I have heard in a long time. The idea that mass sperm banking for 18-year-olds should be funded by the NHS is simply crackers, in my opinion.
“We know that the sperm from the majority of men won’t freeze very well, which is one of the reasons why sperm donors are in short supply. Therefore, men who froze their sperm at 18, and returned to use it later in life, would essentially be asking their wives to undergo one or more IVF procedures in order to start a family.”
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