[Homestead] More Vikings needed, longboat builders arise!
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Thu Sep 30 14:37:53 EDT 2004
The New York Times
September 30, 2004
Spreading Scandinavian Genes, Without Viking Boats
*By LIZETTE ALVAREZ*
ARHUS, Denmark - If, suddenly, children in some pockets of the world
look blonder and taller, if they feel oddly at ease on a bicycle or
juggling three languages, there may be an explanation: Arhus and its
The students in this gentle seaside city, it turns out, are populating
Every day dozens of students here, and in Copenhagen, walk into Cryos
International, the world's largest sperm bank and, after undergoing a
battery of tests to determine their health and fertility, make an
That deposit, frozen and eventually shipped, can make its way to as many
as 40 countries. Destinations include Spain, Paraguay, Kenya, Hong Kong
and New York, where the company opened an office last year to meet the
demands of descendants of people from the Nordic countries.
"It was difficult for them to get pure Scandinavian spare parts," said
Ole Schou, the managing director of Cryos International, which operates
discreetly in Arhus from an unassuming office across the street from a
pet shop. "We could see there was a market."
Denmark, and Cryos in particular, aggressively market their sperm banks
around the world, branding them with the kind of Scandinavian mystique
that appeals to certain people in certain parts of the world.
The American Web site lists donors with aliases like Thor, Arve and
Jens, a student who boasts blond hair and blue eyes and measures 6 feet
1. He enjoys not just soccer and skiing, but also salsa and badminton.
He plays the piano and speaks English and German. Oh, and he is earning
a master's degree in physical chemistry.
"It's not that people want superchildren," Mr. Schou said. "It's that
they want someone like them, someone they can relate to."
In Denmark, sperm banking has become a powerhouse industry for several
reasons: it has a high success rate in producing offspring; its culture,
which is famously secular and sexually liberal, holds an uncomplicated
view of sperm donation; and its laws continue to protect a donor's
In recent years a number of European countries have shifted away from
guaranteeing anonymity, including Sweden, Switzerland and the
Netherlands, with Norway to follow in January and Britain in May. The
United States takes an unregulated approach, so the rules change from
sperm bank to sperm bank.
For the grown children of sperm donors, just as for adopted children,
winning the legal right to know their biological fathers is viewed as a
But the changing laws have created a shortage of donors in some
countries and created a market for "fertility tourists" in Denmark. Most
donors are college-age men who sell their sperm to make extra money -
typically about $40 in Denmark and as much as $500 in the United States.
Faced with the possibility that 18 years down the line, one, or perhaps
10 or 20, of their children can surprise them at the front door, most
young men opt out.
The number of children a donor can father depends on where he lives and
where his sperm is sent. In Denmark the limit is 25, a number that is
supposed to guard against accidental incest between siblings. In Britain
it is 10. In the United States the number is 25 births for each donor
within a population of 800,000, according to guidelines issued by the
American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
One man, a Cryos client whose sperm was donated to several countries,
has sired 101 children, a fact not even he is aware of, Mr. Schou said.
One 24-year-old Arhus University student, a regular donor at Cryos who
asked to go unidentified to preserve his anonymity, said he sold his
sperm for money and got a kick out of providing this "service."
"I think it's kind of cool," the student said. "The meaning of life is
about spreading my genes."
If he ever has to divulge his name or if the company ever stops paying
him, he will stop donating immediately, he said. "For now, I'll keep
visiting for as long as I can," he said.
Cryos claims a good track record. Since the company opened in 1987, it
says, its banked Danish sperm has led to 10,000 pregnancies around the
One study at a local hospital in Denmark pegged the pregnancy rate for
sperm from Cryos at 12 percent to 31 percent, which is above average,
Mr. Schou said.
After thawing, the donated sperm is screened and rescreened for volume
and motility - how quickly it swims. Only 8 percent to 10 percent of
would-be donors are accepted. Some men are shattered when they fail to
make the cut. "Sometimes we say your sperm is good, but you are a bad
freezer," Mr. Schou said.
The fastest-growing markets for sperm banks are lesbians and single
women, which make up about 20 percent of Cryos's client list, mostly
abroad. Denmark, despite its sexual permissiveness, has a law barring
unmarried women from buying sperm from a doctor.
But Mr. Schou is branching out, working on franchises in Africa and
Asia, countries where prospective clients do not necessarily want blond,
blue-eyed Vikings. So he is looking for ethnically diverse donors.
He has even sold to several Middle Eastern countries, where sperm
donations are taboo. "Some say it's difficult to sell sand in the
Sahara," Mr. Schou joked. "I think it's more difficult to sell sperm."
And what of all the ethical quandaries surrounding sperm banking,
including medical screening and gender selection?
Sperm banks can test for a genetic mutation indicating cystic fibrosis,
but then should they also test for Down syndrome? What if a donor
develops colon cancer at 50? Should the sperm bank have to tell the
children conceived with his sperm? Should potential parents be able to
select gender, as they can in the United States?
Already companies market their donors' I.Q. levels, their medical
histories, their good looks. Is that good or bad?
"To some extent whenever you choose a partner in the ordinary way, you
are looking for favorable genetic traits," said Dr. Piers Benn, a
lecturer in medical ethics at Imperial College in London. "It's a
question of degree, I think."
"All of this raises lots of ethical questions, but sometimes law and
regulations are not the best way to deal with them," Dr. Benn said.
"Informed consent, making sure people are adequately informed, but not
heavy-handed with the law, is the best way."
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