• What Is Sperm Donation?
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Assisted Reproductive Technology
|What Is Sperm Donation?
Sperm donation is where a man provides a 'donation' of his sperm to help a woman who is not his sexual partner become pregnant. About 50,000 children are born every year in America as the result of donor sperm. Couples can receive donated sperm from someone they know or anonymously through a sperm bank. Sperm banks are licensed by the American Association of Tissue Banks and have stringent requirements for donors.
The main types of people who seek donor sperm are:
Pregnancy is achieved by artificial insemination in a fertility clinic. First the woman's menstrual cycle is carefully tracked using ovulation prediction kits, blood tests and/or ultrasound scan. The purpose is to identify when she has ovulated - that is, when her ovaries have released an egg and she is at her most fertile. The donor sperm is then usually placed in the vagina using a syringe. A long tube may be attached to the syringe (called a tom cat) to deposit the semen further into the vagina. She needs to lie still for about 30 minutes to allow the sperm time to swim towards the egg and fertilize it. To improve the chance of pregnancy some clinics insert the semen directly into the womb using a long tube called a catheter.
The use of donated sperm has been on the decline since 1992 with the advent of newer infertility treatments. Specifically, sperm extraction, where sperm is surgically removed from a man with a low sperm count. It is used in conjunction with ICSI procedure - extracted sperm is injected directly into an egg in a lab. The resulting embryo is implanted in the woman as part of an IVF cycle. This means that men with very low sperm counts can now become biological fathers. In the past there was no treatment for severe male infertility, sperm donation was the only option. The only downside is that these treatments are expensive, and they need to performed using IVF. Couples who cannot afford IVF still depend on donor sperm to become parents.
Donor sperm is kept frozen in a sperm bank. It is frozen in liquid nitrogen and shipped when ordered. The cost of one vial of donor sperm is between $150 and $300. Most clinics suggest ordering at least 3 vials at a time. In addition to this, you will need to pay your fertility clinic fees for artificial insemination. You will also be given the choice of 'washed' or 'unwashed' sperm. All sperm needs to be washed before used for artificial insemination - if you don't pay the sperm bank to 'wash' it, you will need to pay your clinic to. Some clinics prefer to wash sperm themselves so that they can control the process. Check with your clinic before ordering.
Pregnancy rates for women under the age of 35 are about 10 to 20 percent per insemination. Over the age of 40 this reduces to between 5 and 10 percent.
Picking a sperm donor can be quite daunting, the fear of 'what if I choose wrong' can quickly set in. Ideally, don't let the fear of choosing stop you from making a decision, and don't keep agonizing over your decision once you have made it. Some sperm banks now have a list of their donors online, which you can look at. Typically listed will be the donor's race, ethnicity, profession, education level, height, weight, eye and hair color and blood type. You should also be able to see a photo of the donor, although you will never receive personal contact details.
Yes, the donor is tested for infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and CMV infection. He is also tested to see if he is a carrier for genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome. Depending on his genetic background, specific genetic tests will be performed. For example, African-American donors are likely to be screened for sickle cell anemia. Furthermore, because the risk of passing on diseases is high, sperm banks no longer sell fresh sperm. Instead, all sperm is frozen for 6 months and the donor is retested for infectious diseases before his sperm is finally released to the market.
If the husband has no sperm at all (a condition called Sertoli cell only syndrome), and his wife is worried about the quality of her eggs (either because of her age or due to problems with the eggs), sperm donation may be recommended with IVF. This is where eggs are surgically extracted from the woman and fertilized in a lab with the donor sperm. The resulting embryos are placed in the wife's womb with the hope they will implant and grow. Given the advancements in technology, it is also possible for the couple to receive donor eggs, as well as donor sperm. Or, they could opt for embryo donation (embryos left over from other couples after IVF which are no longer needed).
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