[Homestead] More Vikings needed, longboat builders arise!

Tvoivozhd 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


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 
university men.

The students in this gentle seaside city, it turns out, are populating 
the world.

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 
anonymous deposit.

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 
major victory.

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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