Visits to the sperm bank, conjure up images of tiny little cubicles with sleazy music, porn and red faced men. It probably brings about feelings of immense embarrassment which is enough to make any man freeze and fail to produce a cup full of little swimmers.
A lack of proper education about sperm donation means that few men are prepared to visit a facility and deposit that very precious specimen in the bank.
What many don’t realise is just how crucial that sperm donation is to those couples who are struggling to fall pregnant. According to Medfem, 10 – 35 percent of all couples are infertile. 25 – 50 percent of this is due to male infertility.
But it’s not only heterosexual couples who’d like to have babies. Women involved in committed gay relationships and single women would also opt to use donor sperm, to help them fall pregnant. A woman, married to a man who’s had a vasectomy would also want to use this facility.
Who can donate sperm?
Many prominent men including husbands and fathers become sperm donors.
They are ordinary men, between the ages of 21 – 35, from all race groups and all walks of life.
These men must be healthy, with no family history of medical or genetic problems. They should also have an above-normal sperm count.
How is the sperm screened?
The donor will undergo a series of tests and questionnaires before his semen is accepted. This includes blood tests for diseases and genetic disorders. He’ll also have to fill out a form about his family and medical history.
A comprehensive semen analysis will also be conducted to ensure that the sperm is viable.
Once the donor is accepted by the medical facility he will then donate sperm samples once or twice a week. According to South African law, a man is only allowed to donate enough semen to produce 5 healthy babies. This prevents social problems like intermarriage that could arise should a man be allowed to donate too much sperm.
What if a husband or partner has HIV?
Should a husband be HIV positive and his wife HIV negative, there is hope. According to Cryobank, a sperm wash is done prior to insemination or prior to freezing the specimen. It says while sperm washing and freezing has adverse effects on the sperm count, Cryobank has found that this process eliminates HIV from the sperm sample.
How is the sperm stored?
Sperm banking is more commonly known as sperm cryopreservation. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the sperm for an indefinite period of time.
Semen can be cryogenically stored for more than twenty years. Tests have been done in Belgium to prove that the sperm is still completely functional for up to 21 years. Fresh semen can however only last up to 8 hours in a laboratory.
Legal and Ethical Issues
It’s pretty much the same as receiving a new heart or kidney. According to South African law, a person cannot make a profit from human tissue. This also includes sperm. It means he will not be paid for making the donation.
The donor and recipient are legally allowed to remain anonymous. The donor is however allowed to have a say in who gets his sperm (religion, race, sexual preference and marital status).
Once the baby is born, the donor is not legally obliged to help out financially.
The couple receiving the sperm must realise that they are totally responsible for the baby, as once the infant is born, she is that couple’s legal child.