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Sperm Donation

What is Sperm Donation?

Sperm donation is the process by which a man donates his sperm, usually for a small monetary reimbursement, to be frozen with the intention of being used for pregnancy. Donated sperm is most commonly used in artificial insemination and may also be used in a variety of other Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) procedures. Donation occurs at a sperm bank, or through an outside agency.

In accordance with both Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), sperm samples must be kept frozen and stored for six months or more and then tested again before they can be released for use. The FDA also requires that sperm samples show a negative result for infectious diseases within seven days of donation.

Who is eligible to donate sperm?

Men donating sperm should be between the ages of 18 to 40 with no history of sexually transmitted diseases, genetic or inherited diseases, or psychiatric disorders. Sperm donation is mainly anonymous, but can also be used if a specific sperm donor is identified by a recipient. Due to FDA regulations, a comprehensive medical questionnaire must be filled by the donor prior to a physical examination. Because sperm can die in the freezing process, sperm donors must have a high number of normal sperm present in their semen to be eligible.

Each man who volunteers to donate sperm is required to undergo an extensive medical review to identify any conditions that would be of concern to a potential sperm recipient. Sperm is tested for the following: HIV-1 and 2 antibodies, Hepatitis B surface antigen, Hepatitis C antibody, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Syphilis (RPR). Family health history is often examined as far back as two generations. In addition, sperm banks typically require donors to be under the age of 40 to prevent birth abnormalities that are exacerbated with age, such as autism, miscarriage and other defects. If any health risks are identified, donors will be turned away.

Who can use donated sperm?

Candidates for donated sperm include:

  • Single women and lesbian couples. Donor sperm is the primary way for women without male partners to become biological parents.
  • Heterosexual couples in which the man’s semen contains no sperm, has a low sperm count or poor sperm quality. This often occurs as a result of either genetic causes, because the man has had a vasectomy or because of treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Couples who want to avoid passing on a genetic disease or disorder that is carried by the male’s sperm.

What considerations are there in deciding to use donated sperm?

Deciding whether to use donor sperm often brings up a host of issues. Legal and practical concerns need to be considered, as do the complicated feelings that can arise from making such a choice. One major consideration couples must face is the fact that their child will only be biologically linked to one of the partners. Both legal and emotional counseling can be useful to individuals and couples considering sperm donation.

What is the process to find a sperm donor?

You must decide ahead of time whether you wish the sperm donor to be anonymous or if you prefer it be someone willing to reveal his identity at some later date. The most common sources of donated sperm are sperm banks, also called cryobanks. All sperm banks based in the United States freeze the donated sperm for later use. The sperm held at these banks must be tested for HIV and other transmittable diseases. Samples must also be kept quarantined and frozen for six months or more and then tested again.

When selecting a sperm donor, you can request specific traits, such as eye and hair color, height, ethnicity, or IQ. In the U.S., the FDA regulates sperm banks, but each one operates slightly differently. If sperm is obtained through a sperm bank, typically, the donor is anonymous, though many now require donors to sign documents agreeing to make their identities known to the future child, usually when he or she reaches age 18. You should check a sperm bank’s policies on anonymity.

As an alternative to sperm banks, some women ask a male friend or relative to donate sperm. Naturally, this person would have a greater likelihood of being known to the child at some point in the future. If the donor is a family member, it also makes it possible for both partners to have a biological connection to the child. It’s important in such cases to have an open and extensive discussion about the level of involvement and other expectations and motivations that exist for both parties. As with donors from sperm banks, known donors must undergo testing for HIV, AIDS, and other communicable diseases before becoming a donor. Experts suggest that you and your partner (if you have one) meet with a licensed counselor to discuss whether or not using a sperm donor who will remain anonymous is the right choice for you.

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