Bioethics Blogs

For Love or Money: The “Shortage” of Canadian Sperm Donors

Alana Cattapan challenges the language of “shortage” used to describe the state of sperm donation in Canada.


The case of a couple in Port Hope has raised new questions about the nature of sperm donation in Canada. In this case, a couple bought sperm from an American sperm bank and have since learned that the neuroscientist they selected as a donor is, in fact, a college dropout with a genetically-linked mental illness. The couple is suing the sperm bank for providing misinformation about the donor.

An article in the Toronto Star has suggested that this case arose, in part, because of a “shortage” of sperm donors, linking the purported shortage to the fact that Canada prohibits payment to donors. This article asserted that the shortage compels would-be parents to import potentially dangerous sperm from outside Canadian borders. The language of shortage is used here to argue in favour of allowing payment to donors.

Jean Thery, Marketplatz von Bolsward (ca. 1900)

However, it is unclear that the acquisition of sperm from abroad is a problem at all. And if we are to accept that there is a shortage of Canadian sperm, paying donors is not a reasonable solution.

One might be concerned about importing sperm for reasons of health and safety. But in terms of screening would-be donors prior to donation, there is currently no regulatory oversight of donors that would suggest that Canadian sperm is better screened than its international counterparts. Additionally, all sperm samples imported into Canada are extraordinarily well-tested. In fact, Canadian standards are among the strictest in the world, and the standards applied to imported sperm are the same as those for sperm provided by Canadian donors.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.