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The inconceivable sperm problem
( 2004-01-17 11:30) (Shanghai Star)

What does a nation with 1.3 billion people - going on 1.4 billion - need with a sperm bank?

That's what some are pondering with the news that China's first human sperm bank has opened for business in Central China's Hunan Province.

It started, according to its founder Lu Guangxiu, of Xiangya Medical School of Hunan Zhongnan University, to help men between 25-45 deposit their best genetic material for later use in procreative activity.

Excuse me. Has anyone walked down a street in Shanghai lately? Or Beijing? Or any other major city throughout the country?

China's got a people problem. Recall the one-child policy?

Lu said the new service is designed to ease reproductive concerns caused by worsening male reproductive health throughout China. He cites a condition known as "aspermia", as in lack of sperm.

Hardly a lack of it in China, I would say, given the numbers of pregnant women walking around.

He also says there's a noticeable decrease in the stamina of the semen, or as he put it, "deteriorating sperm quality."

Well, I live near a couple of schools. A middle school looks like some of the kids are being groomed to take on Aikibono in the fall Tokyo sumo basho. And, as for the high schoolers, I'd say Yao Ming's going to have some competition in the years ahead. They're giants.

Somebody's sperm's got some juice.

Not to hear Lu tell it: "Many people, in their peak reproductive period, have to delay the process for various reasons. But when they want to have a baby, they find they have lost the ability to do so."

Well, good for them. Not everybody's meant to have children. China has orphanages full of kids. Adopt, for goodness sake. Thousands of foreign families travel across oceans every years spending their life savings, often as much as US$45,000, just to get a chance to get on a list to adopt a Chinese infant.

Lu blames environmental pollution and factors such as illnesses and accidental injuries for male infertility problems.

Those are the breaks guys. Sad, but true. Get over it.

As one of the most durable cells in the body, sperm can maintain potency even if frozen for a decade or two. That's good news for the animal husbandry industry, but bad news for China's human population, where it just isn't necessary.

Founded in 1981, Lu's sperm bank now has the capacity to freeze 50,000 tubes of sperm and has frozen more than 10,000 tubes. More than 6,600 tubes of sperm have been used in artificial fertilization services, we suppose, making somebody rather rich.

You see, Lu won't disclose the prices he and the hospital are paid for their services. He said a new price had been set pending the approval of the local price administration department.

If that is so, why not tell the public. It has a right to know how money is being wasted in China.

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