A lesbian couple from Liverpool have been able to conceive a child thanks to an online sperm bank, in one of the Web-based service's first successes.
Jaime Saphier and Sarah Watkinson purchased sperm from the Man Not Included Web site at a total cost of £830, and Saphier is due to give birth in January 2004.
The site allowed them to search for a donor on the database, selecting a candidate based on criteria such as preferred race, eye colour, height and weight. This development follows a controversy in 2001 when the Kilshaws from Wales "purchased" twin babies online. The babies were later returned to the US after a court case.
According to reports, 18 other couples from around the world have conceived babies using sperm purchased through Man Not Included, but Saphier's pregnancy is thought to be one of the first in the UK.
While Man Not Included caters for single women and lesbian couples, sperm banks in general are abandoning their previous practices and setting up online. The Sperm Bank of California, for example, has stopped publishing paper copies of its quarterly newsletter in favour of setting up online. Sperm Bank director Alice Ruby said the decision recognised the dominant trend in the industry: "Almost everyone does (the donor selection) online now," she said.
Online sperm banks have accelerated the process of finding sperm for many women, and Man Not Included said it has been a benefit to gay couples throughout the world who had previously been refused help from their local GPs, as happened to Saphier and Watkinson.
Jaime Saphier told the Liverpool Echo: "It was fantastic. Everyone was really helpful and we found the whole process simple."
Man Not Included is understood to be planning to launch in Spain and Germany.