Currently in New Zealand, male infertility is thought to account for around 30% of the reasons why some couples have problems conceiving. There are many causes for this but it is mostly due to an inability to produce or deliver sperm. Some men produce very few, or no sperm at all, or the sperm they do produce are abnormal. This makes sperm donation the only option for couples who are keen to have a baby.
It is estimated that around one in eight couples who are having problems with infertility need to use donor sperm in order to have a baby.
If donor sperm is arranged through a fertility clinic, it can be used via insemination or as part of an overall In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) procedure. Artificial insemination can be a very simple treatment for infertility; however, freezing and storing sperm is much more difficult and involves more cost. If donor insemination is done, the sperm is injected directly into the woman’s uterus and timed with her ovulation. If it is used during IVF, the sperm is used to create an embryo with the woman’s ova and then transferred into the uterus.
Many couples worry that using donated sperm to achieve a pregnancy will affect its success. But research shows that there is the same rate of pregnancy complications from using donor sperm as there are through natural conception. Sperm donation in itself does not add to pregnancy risk.
If couples want to use sperm which has been arranged through the fertility clinic, careful screening procedures are done to ensure it is safe to use. Most clinics limit the number of times a donor’s sperm can be used to a total of 5-10 families, depending on which clinic is used. In cases where the donor is known to a couple the same checks are done as for anonymous donors.
Sperm donation needs to be done for altruistic reasons and not for monetary gain. In New Zealand, it is illegal for individuals to accept any payment for human tissue. The HART Act Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act (HART Act) 2004 is very clear regarding the use of financial gain in exchange for semen. Some clinics however, do offer travel expenses of approximately $30 for each visit. This is usually paid after the initial blood tests have returned clear and the donor is assessed as suitable. Some donors choose not to accept any compensatory payment for travelling; it is an entirely personal choice.
Some couples choose to access sperm donation through informal avenues, such as internet web-sites. This is potentially risky both for legal and health reasons. However, for couples who cannot afford fertility treatments through reputable clinics, this may be their only option of conceiving.
In New Zealand currently, sperm donors need to meet certain criteria to qualify. Each fertility clinic has its own guidelines but generally:
Initial testing and analysis of the donor’s sperm is done to check whether it is suitable to use. A fresh sample is necessary to gain an accurate analysis of the number of sperm present and to analyse how it stands up to the rigours of being frozen. Donors are asked to abstain from having sex for up to 3 days before they provide a sample.
Every clinic has a private room which is donors use to go and masturbate and collect a semen sample. It takes 1-2 weeks before the clinic can determine whether it is suitable and donations can proceed.
Each clinic has their own practices but generally, up to ten separate donations of semen are required once it has passed laboratory screening.
It is also necessary for donors to have blood and urine tests to check they are not carrying any infectious diseases which could place the recipient or the potential baby at any risk. This is also when screening tests are done to identify if there is any risk of passing on any genetic abnormalities.
Sometimes, sperm is not suitable for donation but this is not obvious until it has been analysed. Some of the more common reasons for this can be;
Most recipients are keen to have some say in the physical characteristics of the sperm they receive. Some choose to request sperm is stored for future pregnancies if they want to have future children with the same biological father.
The Status of Children Amendment Act 1969, clearly sets out the legal obligations and responsibilities and rights of the sperm donor, the child who is conceived and the woman’s partner.
Check The Status of Children Act 1969 link and The Human Assisted Reproductive Technology Act for specific information:
Sperm donors have a legal right to know if their donation has resulted in a live baby, what its sex is and if there were any abnormalities. Likewise, when the child legally becomes an adult, they have a right to access identifying information about who the sperm donor was. Fertility clinics keep this information on file in the event that one day this information may be sought.
Clinics also need to submit this information to the Department of Births, Death and Marriages whenever donor eggs or sperm have been used. This department keeps basic identification regarding donors which may be of interest to the child when they have become an adult themselves. Changes surrounding the legislation were made from August 2005.