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Japan health organization seeks public body management of third-party sperm, egg donations

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TOKYO -- The Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (JSOG) will soon be putting in a request with the Japanese government that it set up a public-sector organization to manage information on sperm and egg donors in the field of assisted reproductive medicine, it has been learned.

    The management of such information is currently entrusted to the various facilities that practice assisted reproductive medicine, and there is no guarantee that the information will be stored for long periods of time. One of the aims for allocating a public body to manage the information is that the children who are born through the use of such technology are guaranteed the right to know their origins.

    The JSOG will, at the same time, also request that rules based on laws be laid down. There have been a string of cases in which sperm and eggs have been sold and bought on the internet without going through medical institutions, making it possible for hiccups to occur down the line. Concerns that choosing donors by their looks or their academic backgrounds could lead to the kind of thinking represented by eugenics have also spurred the JSOG to determine that a certain level of rules were necessary.

    According to those tied to the JSOG, it is envisioned that the public body would be a part of the children's and families' agency whose launch the government is aiming for in April 2023, or that its tasks would be carried out by an incorporated administrative agency under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

    The JSOG is planning to request that information such as the names, contact information and health conditions of donors be recorded and kept for 100 years. It will also ask that online trade of sperm and eggs be banned, and that a certain level of restrictions be laid down for sperm and egg banks that allow for donors' academic backgrounds to be looked up.

    Artificial insemination by donor (AID) has been conducted in Japan for at least 70 years, and has mostly been carried out by 12 medical facilities registered with the JSOG. An estimated 20,000 or so people have been born through this method.

    In recent years, the demand for fertility treatment that makes use of sperm or eggs that do not come from the couple receiving treatment is rising, due to the effects of people marrying later in life. The government asks that people refrain from in-vitro fertilization and micro-insemination that uses a third-party's sperm and eggs, but clinics that perform this procedure have come to exist, so rules must be laid down before the number of cases in which women give birth through this method rises.

    For its members, the JSOG indicates the standards that should be met when carrying out AIDs, but this is not legally binding, and there are no rules on how information should be managed. Elsewhere in the world, there is a growing trend toward recognizing children's right to know their origins. But in Japan, there have been reports of medical facilities getting rid of information on donors to keep their identities confidential.

    In December 2020, a special law in the Civil Code establishing parent-child relationships in cases where a third party's sperm or eggs were used to conceive was passed. As for the right to know one's origins and restrictions on the sale of sperm and eggs, there was an additional clause added, saying, "Action will be taken legislatively in around two years."

    (Japanese original by Ayumu Iwasaki and Ryo Watanabe, Science & Environment News Department)

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