Health: Internet sperm bank delivers a new male order service

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Single women and infertile couples are turning to the World Wide Web to find sperm donors. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, reports on the dangers of looking for Mr Right on the Internet.

Christopher has dimples, tans easily and is six feet two. Age 31, he is college-educated and describes himself as "secure, innovative and comedic (sic)". He is a professional surfer and for a fee of $450, or pounds 280, you can get a frozen sample of his sperm.

Christopher's details, plus photo, are advertised on the Internet by Fertility Options, a California-based company and one of several selling genes around the world. So far there has been only one taker for Christopher's gametes but he says is anxious to help those who "need help with starting their own loving family".

Yesterday the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority warned that people who buy sperm via the Internet may be taking risks. Single women in particular who want to avoid questions on their circumstances asked by UK clinics are thought to be targets for international donor services.

Ruth Deech, chairman of the HFEA, said yesterday: "Some people may be tempted ... No questions are asked. However ... there will be no guarantee that the sperm will have undergone the necessary rigorous screening that all UK donated sperm must receive. In addition there can be no way of ensuring that the sperm is of good enough quality to achieve fertilisation, or even that it came from the man advertised."

The authority, the only regulatory authority of its kind in the world, launched its own website yesterday which gives information on treatment and allows browsers to order details of clinics. In the UK sperm can only be obtained from licensed clinics and potential donors are tested for hepatitis, syphilis and HIV.

The authority issued an example of what is on offer from a firm called Pacific Reproductive Services which claims to offer a higher proportion of "willing to be known" donors than any other clinic. The donors are listed by number, they are willing to be known only to the recipients of their sperm.

Number 143 is listed as having a cute face, blond hair, striking blue eyes and Swedish/Italian-American background. He appears to be a hot property. "Limited availability" the listing warns.

The HFEA website is at www.hfea.