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Mapping Weak Signals

Inspired by: FP7 » Growing selection of sperm by donor social and cultural group

version: 8 / updated: 2011-05-09
id: #1744 / version id: #490
mode: VIEW

Originally submitted by: Joe Ravetz
List of all contributors by versions (mouse over)
Last changed by: Rafael Popper
WI-WE status:

Source of inspiration

European Commission Framework Programme for RTD (FP7)

Theme/activity of inspiration

Theme 6 - Environment (including Climate Change)

Sub-theme/area of inspiration

Environment and health

Optional reference/s to FP7 project/s

Use the following format: Project Acronym (Project Reference No.). Use commas if more than one project is associated to this Wild Card, for example: ALFA-BIRD (213266), SAFAR (213374), LAPCAT-II (211485)

Signal's headline

(max. 9 words)
Growing selection of sperm by donor social and cultural group

Signal's description

(approx. 150 words)
Please describe the Weak Signal (approx. 150 words)
Despite opposition from many quarters (religious groups, some feminists and minority support and children’s rights advocates) the trend takes off, with celebrity endorsement (and donation) and media promotion. Markets in sperm (and ova) are widely used, enabling – if not designer babies – high levels of choice about the background of gametes. Regulatory issues arise (possibly varying across countries) concerning tracing donors and informing children of heir ancestry; about sex selection and ethnic issues; about inheritance from and payment to donors.


sperm bank, privatization, social group, donor, segregation


(max. 250 characters)
New developments in reproductive technology and its regulation, together with demand from some quarters of society, lead to substantial increase in sperm selection using criteria such as donor social class, IQ, lifestyle/personality and appearance.

Signal's first apperance


Signal's potential evolution

It could lead to...
issue type of issue/development potential impact on society timeframe for the issue to become at least 50% probable
#1 Families composed of children with diverse genetic heritage, issues of incest and the like across apparently unrelated families (and within apparently related families). re-emerging
#2 Sex selection of infants and associated controversies and risks of gender imbalance. re-emerging
mainly harmful
#3 Privileging of certain ethnicities and standards of health and beauty. re-emerging
#4 Growing willingness to reshape biological heritage (cf transhumanism). continuation
mainly harmful
#5 Privatisation of health/medical treatment, with attendant inequalities of access. continuation
very harmful
#6 Political difficulties in confronting issues of human identity and childrens’ rights. continuation
very harmful
#7 Relaxation of regulations about donor information and numbers of offspring that can be generated. (This will require handling issue of [in]voluntary incest among people sharing some biological parentage but from different families.) discontinuation
#8 Possible backlash as evidence accumulates that genetic propensities are overshadowed by social circumstances, that expectations on children prove to have deleterious consequences – possibly leading to suing of clinics for false claims or other malfeasance. discontinuation
very harmful

Under what assumption the Weak Signal might evolve.

Ineffective efforts to stop or slow down the evolution of this signal.


please specify
please select
Level 3: important for the European Union
Level 4: important for the whole world

Filters preventing the signal's monitoring

cultural/religious filters (values, traditions, faith, spiritual beliefs)
economic filters (business/market interests)
affective filters (emotions, anxiety, self-doubt)
social filters (class, status, education level)

Comments on selection:

Religious groups will not support these practices. Private sperm banks with "premium sperm" (i.e. form high IQ and "beautiful" appearance/features) will not be affordable for all segments of society. In some countries with strong family values, sperm selection will be seen as a lack of honour to family ancestors.

Key driving forces of this signal

Please use these boxes to provide up to 2 drivers of HIGH importance. Click on HELP to see examples:
Driver 1 Driver 2
Social Increasing willingness to reshape one’s biological heritage (e.g. cosmetic surgery).
Technological/Scientific Increased intervention in reproduction (e.g. overcoming infertility and extending reproductive age). New genetic techniques for testing and selecting among sperm (and ova) or their donors.
Economic Medical tourism (“fertility tourism” is already a term in use). Privatisation of health facilities.
Values/Ethical/Cultural Acceptance of high social inequalities. Celebrity culture.

Major risks & opportunities associated to the signal

Please choose the most appropriate timeframe option(s) to which you would like to provide inputs.
Risks Opportunities
between 2025-2050 New issues arise concerning gender equality, inheritance rights, social exclusion.

Potential stakeholders' actions

short-term actions
(after 2015)
Policy actors (at the international, European and national levels) Support socially beneficial regulations to deal with potential unethical issues emerging from public and private sperm banks.
Academic/Research sector More research on unexpected consequences of sperm selection practices.

Signal's relevance for European Grand Challenges

where? please justify:
particularly relevant Europe world
Behavioural change
Ethics and abuse of S&T
Social exclusion & poverty
Social cohesion and diversity

Signal's relevance for thematic research areas

please justify:
particularly relevant
Social Sciences and Humanities
Science in society

Pan-European strategies influencing the signal

please justify:
particularly relevant
Facilitating and promoting knowledge sharing and transfer

Research-friendly strategies potentially improving understanding of the signal

For further information about 'research-friendly strategies' click here
please justify:
particularly relevant
Creating a closer link between researchers & policy-makers
(e.g. supporting both thematic and cross-cutting policies, highlighting the strategic purpose of the European Research Area, etc.

Signal's relevance for future R&D and STI policies

Note: RTD = research and technology development; STI = science, technology and innovation
Improved techniques for gamete assessment and selection, and likewise for monitoring in IVF situations. Ethics of reproductive technology will require new regulation and training of scientists and medical practitioners. (Need to combine biomedical knowledge with improved understanding of social dynamics – involving social research.)