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« on: September 30, 2004, 04:08:19 PM »


Spreading Scandinavian Genes, Without Viking Boats
Published: September 30, 2004

RHUS, 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 anonymity.

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 world.

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.

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