A Male Problem

A Male Problem

Ian Hawker



Format: 13.5 x 21.5 cm
Number of Pages: 354
ISBN: 978-3-99064-386-0
Release Date: 05.11.2018
A shocking, amusing and thought-provoking look at what the future could hold and how Artificial Intelligence can help - or hinder - our lives!
Death of Sperm

Linda looked out of the large kitchen window at her very English garden. It was winter and for once the garden was full of different species of birds eating from the many bird feeders she had hanging from the apple tree, the line post and the summer house. A pigeon strutted sideways around the bird bath taking a sip of water at each stop. Blue tits were hopping from one water lily to the other on the small pond, disappearing for a few seconds to splash in the still water. Within the pond six small goldfish came from the depths from time to time when the sun appeared, and a pair of robins could be seen under the bushes pecking at a few crumbs which dropped from the bird table. A pair of swings moved slightly in the breeze. It was a magical scene from a child’s picture book.
Except there was no child. Her husband, Derek, had been diagnosed as infertile a few days earlier. This was not entirely a surprise as the male partners of all her friends and acquaintances had sought treatment and had all been found to have zero sperm count. The reason appeared to be a peculiar airborne infection which had spread around the globe in the last ten years, affecting the male reproductive system. This strange new infection had hit male fertility for six unexpectedly and it was now estimated that only one in a hundred men remained fertile following the outbreak.
Linda was desperate for a child. She thought about children all the time. She had bought dozens of toys and baby clothes filling cupboards to the brim. A baby bath rested on its end near the bathroom shower waiting to be used. A child’s high chair stood ready in a corner of the garage. It was so unfair! To help alleviate the pain, she helped at child play groups which grew smaller each year as the number of children gradually diminished. She loved her husband, but her life now felt empty. Adoption had become almost impossible due to the lack of babies available, except for the rich who often had influence in the darker corners of the adoption procedure. There was a thriving black market of kidnapped overseas children especially from Eastern Europe, and men got rich on the back of it. A fortunate mother, whose husband was fertile, would see her child being stared at enviously by other women and it was no longer safe to leave any child unattended.
Linda worked part time as a lady’s hairdresser which kept her busy a few days a week. Women wanting to look good for themselves and their husbands and boyfriends. Of course, it was an open secret whose male partner was fertile and could do the business. These men were becoming sought after and looked up to on sperm count alone rather than good looks, intelligence or wealth. For a few ‘modern’ women it was lucrative to rent out their fertile husband for the night at a healthy fee and usually the husbands did not object. It was every man’s dream!
Derek was now thirty-five years of age and felt guilty. He was getting a free ride with no results and he knew his wife was unhappy. When they were trying so hard to conceive, it had been sex each night and often the following morning before work. Most of the men arrived at work with smiles on their faces. But what should they do now that there was no hope of fathering a child? Of course, there were private sperm banks; use another man’s sperm to get his wife pregnant. Not ideal but an option if that was what Linda decided. Another option was to use a local gigolo, usually a young fertile man who sold his services to those who could afford them. Then, of course, he would be bringing up another man’s child. But if that is what Linda decided then fine. He would be prepared to pay and help make some lucky bastard rich!
After Derek had left for work Linda made herself another coffee and took some baby clothes from a draw just to feel them soft in her hands. She had sufficient outfits for two children; a boy or a girl. Either would be a gift more than any other she could think of. Then she headed out to the local ‘Piglets’ playgroup which was two miles away, taking some bits and pieces they might be able to use. The number of children in the 2–5 age group had dropped in the last five years. Many of the small independent house play groups had closed but the larger, council-supported ones remained open. These days there were as many helpers as children and she had been on a waiting list for six months before being accepted as a helper. Linda pushed open the small child gate and entered the play area, met by screams of excitement from the toddlers pushing around toy horses and pedal cars or making use of the climbing area. She had brought along some crayons and colouring books which she put on one of the small plastic tables for any child to use. When she helped a child with the drawings, she felt happy. Then, at Christmas, Linda helped with the decorations and party games and they all laughed as Santa appeared with presents for the children. These were happy mornings and she looked forward to them.
Derek agreed with Linda that she would try fertility treatment at an NHS sperm clinic. Regular donations were made by fertile males who sometimes waived their fee from a feeling of altruism or because it was too small to be worth collecting. They applied for treatment but to their surprise, found there was a twelve-month waiting list. As yet the government had made no provision for the massive demand which had followed the unexpected crisis and the clinics were not capable of supporting it in terms of facilities or numbers of trained staff. On top of that the treatment itself would last for up to six months so it would be at least eighteen months before Linda could conceive. Expensive private fertility treatment was available with much shorter waiting times but not included on most company or private insurance schemes. In the meantime, Derek would keep trying, knowing success was unlikely. Then Linda had an idea which might solve the problem and decided she would mention it to her husband that evening.


Glasgow Tenement

As Leslie drove toward the blocks of tenement flats a few miles to the south of Glasgow city centre, she thought they looked like upended grey coffins set against the ever-changing winter sky. The f lats had been thought of as a cost-effective solution to rehousing council residents from the rat-infested backstreet slums which was certainly true at the time. But now most county councils were blowing them up as unsightly and difficult to maintain. Instead they were building a mixture of two-storey houses and smaller blocks of f lats with good thermal insulation and a more pleasant outlook.
Leslie sat opposite her mother, Margaret, in the eighth-floor tenement flat. Margaret spoke about Mrs Venables, found dead last week on her own in a seventh-floor flat with an empty glass in her hand. Government records could find no living relatives, so Margaret had put her name forward to witness the cremation and see Mrs Venables on her way into the next world. It had been a short service as no one really knew the deceased, a common occurrence as the old folk were often left on their own and forgotten. Leslie was now in her late twenties and Margaret had hoped for some grandchildren to visit by now, she herself having had three bairns by that age. She drank every day and was becoming an alcoholic, spending too much time on her own a fate which Leslie herself was determined to avoid.
“What’s wrong with your Jamie? Canna ‘e get his leg over?” said Margaret in her usual robust style.
“Please don’t be so crude, Mother. It’s not Jamie’s fault,” responded Leslie.
Her husband, Jamie, had been quite a catch; a good-looking man with an eye for the ladies. The fertility epidemic had come as a shock to both of them and taken away Jamie’s self confidence. Seeing Leslie’s disappointment, he had turned to drink and rarely arrived home sober these days.
“I don’t understand all this stuff about a male epidemic. The young men look fine to me,” said her mother. She had her own opinions on male fertility irrespective of what she saw on the TV news broadcasts. It would take a delegation of Presbyterian Elders to convince her of anything different.
“Sometimes I dream of being rescued by a chunky fireman who carries me over his shoulder to safety,” said her mother – a common fetish amongst middle-aged women.
“I believe that might work for the eighth floor,” replied Leslie, preferring her mother to fantasize about firemen rather than to discuss her husband.
Leslie looked out of the window at the grey tenements all around. Many of the young men had turned to drink, and street violence continued to get worse. There were fewer people on the street these days and the police had become less tolerant, often patrolling in groups for protection. Childless marriages put pressure on society in many different ways. Children were important for the women and good for the men, developing the natural instincts of both. Without children, life often became selfish and inward looking. There was less reason to stay married and instances of infidelity and divorce grew rapidly. Society itself was changing for the worse.
For the poorest there seemed no way out. Of course, there were self-help groups for leisure time, especially for women promoting activities such as physical fitness and the arts. Leslie attended many of these with a friend in the evenings after work. She wondered how she would have managed without the distraction they provided. She read novels each day when not working to fill the hours before Jamie came home. But she saw less and less of him these days. Childlessness had made a big void in their lives and she hoped the government could come up with a solution to the crisis. But talking to the other women, this seemed unlikely as government fertility services were grossly inadequate to meet the demand. Artificial insemination using another man’s sperm was a possibility she could accept if Jamie agreed. But given the state of their marriage, this conversation was unlikely to happen in the near future. Communication with Jamie these days was minimal and unlikely on this difficult topic. Also, the idea of using a cheap middle-aged gigolo, one they could afford, she found abhorrent. She needed help from somewhere! Certainly, this would not come from her mother who did not really comprehend what had happened. In the end, Leslie decided if the government eventually started a large-scale fertility service then she would make use of it and hopefully Jamie would understand.


Government

No one had found a cure for the dramatic fall in male fertility. Nor did a cure look likely based on the evidence gathered so far from government research. Sperm were either being born dead or not produced at all. It looked like the reproductive systems of all infected men had been tampered with except for the 1% who appeared to have a natural resistance to the infection. To begin with, no one had taken the crisis seriously and senior civil servants had joked over their brandies. But after five years it was clear there was a crisis which was not going to go away any time soon. One obvious answer to the problem was to persuade the fortunate 1% to contribute to sperm banks by financial inducement or regulation. Of course, the gene pool diversity would continue to reduce over time increasing the risk of genetic disease, but that was still generations away. Everyone carried some genetic defects quite naturally and the risk of these being manifested was nullified if couples were unrelated, which was normally the case. The donors and recipients using the sperm banks would need to be carefully managed, so the risk of genetic disease could be minimized. The church would be asked to support whatever measures were needed which might need some rethinking of their teachings. Some individuals would consider state control of conception to be a step towards eugenics as practised by the Nazis, adding to its unpopularity. But the aim here was to maintain the population size as far as possible rather than to selectively reproduce on economic or racial grounds. It was, nevertheless, an incursion into people’s lives and not the way procreation was meant to work. However, from the government’s perspective, the main issue was to preserve the human race at current levels and worry less about the sensitivities of the few. The population was now falling continually and soon there would be far fewer young people around to fill work vacancies. The population was also getting older which did not bode well for the future.
The Prime Minister was in regular contact with the Health Secretary, Tom Barker, and clearly some sort of government plan or policy was needed to deal with the crisis. Male infertility and its associated growth in crime through civil unrest was now the biggest issue facing his government.
“Tom, what were the results of the analysis of the UK population trends using our latest data?” asked the PM.
“Well, it’s very dependent on the assumptions regarding the number of men affected and social behaviour, you understand,” answered the Health Secretary, often a little vague when asked a difficult question.
The PM pressed him further. “We need to understand the numbers to see whether advice or legislation can help the situation. What is the prognosis on population for the next ten to fifty years, if there is no cure for male impotency?”
The Health Secretary had been working with the UK Office of National Statistics and a Cambridge University computer laboratory to crunch the numbers.
“Well, at the current 1% male fertility level, and making maximum use of male donors, then in theory we might be just able to maintain the current population,” said the Health Minister optimistically.
He then continued more realistically. “Although, it is more likely that the population will reduce at least 30% in the next fifty years is the bottom line.”
“Why is that?” asked the PM, already suspecting this would be the case.
“The main issue looks likely to be the provision and acceptance of the government-provided fertility donor services,” said the Health Secretary. They both recognized that these services hardly existed at the scale needed and would need to be ramped up as soon as possible. Then a public information campaign would be needed to encourage people to make use of the insemination services.
“What about shortage of donors?” asked the PM.
“Might be an issue, although financial reward and market forces will likely sort that one,” said Tom.
“We think the main issue will be couples accepting donor sperm from a complete stranger,” he continued. “If the take up is say, only 50% of couples, then the overall population could eventually crash by the same amount.” Because of the uncertainties, it was difficult for Tom to be more precise but the overall message of diminishing population and a reduced workforce was clear enough.
Tom was getting into his stride. “Also, we need to speak to the Chancellor because currently the cost of fertilization is high and there are not enough clinics to cope with even a modest demand.”
“How many clinics do we need?” asked the PM.
Tom the Health Secretary had done some ‘back of the envelope’ calculations on the resources needed to fertilize about ten million women in the UK over the next ten years using skilled practitioners. He estimated this came to about five thousand women per day including follow-up visits. The main issue was that existing clinics would require specialist equipment and thousands of trained practitioners. He had submitted these estimates to the Chancellor a week earlier and been met with a shake of the head and a wry smile. But the PM was under growing pressure to come up with a solution to the crisis and decided to sanction the spend in principle, asking the Chancellor to sort out the detail before his next budget. At this, the Chancellor had gone a little green and then after a few days ref lection, got on with the task of raising the money. The PM recognized that failure to respond to the developing fertility crisis quickly would lose him the next election.

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