Two men were convicted today for running a fertility website without a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The website made sperm available from anonymous donors to women who wanted to conceive.
Jurors at Southwark Crown Court heard that Ricky Gage, 49, and Nigel Woodforth, 43, from Reading, Berkshire, made about £250,000 by illegally operating the fertility website, Fertility1st.com. The company, which proclaimed on it's website to prospective customers to be "an opportunity to fulfil your dreams", made 792 deliveries to women before it was stopped by the HFEA.
The men argued that their company was just an introduction service and that users made their own private agreements, meaning they were not procuring or making sperm available.
The men were arrested in April 2009, after police posed as a potential sperm donor and then as a woman seeking a donor.
It is the first time anyone has been prosecuted under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.
People who use unlicensed services or private arrangements face potential serious consequences regarding the fatherhood of any child conceived. A man donating sperm through HFEA licensed fertility clinics is not the legal father of any child born through that donation. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient. That is not so where the arrangement occurs outside a licensed clinic and the man's status and liability as a parent cannot be waived.
Professor Lisa Jardine, Chair of the HFEA said: "We understand why women may use these sites. Getting access to fertility services can be difficult and there can be some very strong emotional pressures when trying to start a family. But unlicensed internet sites like these are exploiting women. This is a victory for those women. We will continue to work with the police to prevent more women from being exploited by those who choose to break the law."
In a statement published before the trial on the company's website, Nigel Woodforth said: "Fertility1st were requested by the HFEA to apply for a licence - even though we were advised legally that this was not a requirement unless the sperm is frozen and stored, and because of this Fertility1st would not be affected. We applied to the HFEA as they requested and were refused - they requested that we freeze and store the sperm but we have refused to change our procedures in this way to accommodate them, as this is totally against Fertility1st principles."
The men will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 24 September and the judge has warned that she is considering a prison sentence and fine.