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How Does a Sperm Bank Work

With the introduction of IVF, surrogacy and other scientific options for reproduction, a sperm bank is no longer a taboo concept in society. Most of us still are not clear about the exact procedure entitled to a this bank. A detailed prospectus has been discussed in the following.
A lot of cases of infertility have been resolved with scientific methods and the progress that gives us many options for a safe and possible pregnancy, when the natural and traditional methods for conceiving fail. We have come across terms like IVF (in vitro fertilization) and surrogacy, that is literally a womb for pregnancy. Along with these, sperm donation is also a term that is not rare and taboo anymore, which is an important tool in dealing with infertility cases. It has been recognized as an important aspect in the fields of gynecology and human science. In many cases of infertility and many other reasons (which will discussed below) a donated sperm has been used for reproduction.

A sperm bank also known as cryobank, is the place where samples of sperms are stored. These are regulated by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. An advantage of this bank is that the client can ask for a specific genetic structure of the sperm, that they wish the child to have. You can have your call when it comes to choosing how the child should look. Some people also wish to register a known donor, or provide their own donor, which is also known as surrogate parenting. How is this achieved? What is the procedure of legally donating sperm and how does the bank work? All these facts and more have been compiled in the following segment of the article.

Sperm Donation

There are many reasons why people wish to donate sperm. One major reason is to help an infertile couple have a child. Some will donate sperm to keep it safe for the future in case the individual has a job that can risk his life and reproductive ability, like athletes and sportsmen, army and military professionals. These individuals store their sperm so that they can still have their own child in the future. Medical conditions like cancer, future surgeries like vasectomy can also be the reason why men donate sperms and keep them safe. Some other reasons may be financial obligations and responsibilities. Donated sperms also help singles and gay couples who want a child and who will have their own genes. And also for homosexual women who want children, with her own eggs and genes. It is found that 1 out of 8 couples who are infertile use a donor sperm to help conception.

Process of Sperm Donation

Not every one can donate sperms. Though the name may sound very simple, it is actually a long process to finally donate sperm and get it registered. Sperm is only collected from healthy men, after proper application, an appointment and a series of tests. The person willing to donate can contact the bank, most of the time the information can be found on-line. The criteria for donation is: age of 18-40 years, no family history of disease, must be able to provide complete details of family medical history, must be free from any health issues and disease, should be willing to bear with the commitment made to the donation program.
  • Once you register after meeting the criteria, you will go through the first round of the process. The individual is consulted with an obstetrician and upon agreement, the first sample of semen is collected. The donor may be advised to abstain from ejaculation for at least 48 hours before the first sample screening for the best quality of sperm. It is then put through tests, for healthy quantity of sperms in the sample, testing for HIV and other sexual diseases. This may typically take 2 to 3 months to complete tests and screening.
  • The collection of sperm sample can be done in the bank's laboratory, or it can also be collected through something known as 'Priority Male Overnight Collection Kit'. By this the donor can collect the sample at home, in specially made sterile containers that are shipped to them and after the sample collection they can ship it to the bank through Fed ex, which is prepaid and arranged for the donor.
  • Once the screening is complete, and it gives a positive remark, the donor is called again for the second visit, here he can be asked to sign an agreement of consent to the entire donation process. A series of health tests and check ups follow after this for a few months. Many samples of sperm are taken from the donor as these tests progress.
How is the Donated Sperm Stored

Once the sperm is collected, it is handed over to the lab technician. The sperm is frozen, as well as the cells and tissues in the sample. A special liquid may be used to keep the sperm healthy and free from damage during freezing and thawing. This process of freezing sperm is called cryopreservation. He then, stores the sample in special containers called vials, these are thin containers, are sealed and kept in extremely cold temperatures, in containers filled with liquid nitrogen vapor. The temperatures can vary from (-150° C) to (-196° C). The donated sample, is also checked after freezing and thawing, to meet quality standards, like the minimum count of sperm after thawing a sample must be 20 million active or motile sperms per millimeter.

Time Limit of the Stored Sperm

A sperm has no expiry date, as long as it is stored well in aptly controlled atmosphere, it can stay as long as it is stored well. There are reports of sperms being stored for 20 years, which have been used for conception successfully. The only difference between a fresh sperm and a stored sperm is that fresh sperm are alive inside the uterus for 2-5 days, while a thawed and frozen sperm will stay alive for 24 hours.

Using Donor Sperm

After consulting your doctor you can contact the sperm bank. You can choose from the list of banks all over, as the sperms can be shipped easily. You can discuss with the bank its costs and the donor profiles. Though all samples may not have photographs and names, you can still get all physical details and features. This helps people who want to match the offspring as closely to the father. So a specific search is done, to get a sample with characteristics resembling the recipient (father).

Fees and Costs

For the donors, there are no specific fees, there are only certain rules and regulations, every sperm bank has its own norms, so these rules differ, they may include educational qualifications, specific body weight and height, etc. The donor gets an average of anything between $75 to few hundred dollars for each sample of semen. These may vary with each bank. For the recipient too, the costs of purchasing sperm may vary with every bank.

Donor Identity in Sperm Donation

The donor can either provide full details or remain anonymous. If the person wishes to give full details, he can do so. He can also opt for something known as 'ID Consent', which will allow the future offspring to know the donor's name after the child attains legal age (18 years). Even if the donor chooses to withhold the name, he still has to give descriptive details of himself and his family to the bank. The recipients are entitled of these details. He can choose to stay alien to the recipient or the future child forever or as long as he desires. Later if he wishes to change to ID consent, that is also possible. The bank however, is not responsible to track the donor, and also does not guarantee that the donor will be found at any stage. Also there is no rule that forces the donor to meet the future offspring.

Sperm donation and purchasing is a safe method and, has a good success rate. It is a healthy procedure and has helped many couples share the joy of being parents. Understanding this procedure is equally important, so make sure you consider all aspects of this program when donating or even purchasing sperm.
By Dhanashree Patane
Published: 8/17/2011
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