1. In August, there was a predictable media hoo-ha when Laura Witjens, chief executive of The National Sperm Bank admitted that since opening their doors eleven months earlier, just nine men had registered as sperm donors.
2. To be fair, although just nine men registered, many more probably tried to volunteer. Sperm donor screening is so rigourous that only one in 10 applicants make it through the testing process.
3. Some men are put off before they even start. Because screening can reveal issues about future fertility, current health and the health of any existing, or future children, men are, quite rightly, advised to think very carefully before they decide to donate sperm.
4. Others are dissuaded by the fact that a donor-conceived child who is born with an abnormality could sue them for damages if it can be proven that they failed to divulge relevant facts about inherited disabilities or physical/mental illnesses that had affected anyone in their family.
5. Inevitably, a percentage of potential donors are rejected because their sperm is poor quality. One in five men aged under 25 have a low sperm count and because sperm quantity and quality decline with age, donors must be aged between 18 and 40.
6. Sperm donation is a time consuming commitment too. Although it only takes about sixty seconds to provide the actual sample, it takes the National Sperm Bank nine months to confirm that it is healthy and viable.
7. That is largely because all sperm donations have to be frozen for six months to quarantine for HIV and Hep B. Because the freezing process kills off a percentage of sperm, even ordinarily acceptable sperm donations may be rendered unusable after the thawing process. To screen for this possibility, all initial sperm samples are frozen and put through a test thaw to ensure that they will survive the quarantine process.
8. If a sperm sample survives this battery of testing, the donor is invited to a second appointment where he is asked to give a blood sample. This is used to determine blood group, to screen for common genetic disorders and to check for sexually transmitted infections. Men may also be required to provide a urine sample and they must permit the clinic to contact their GP to confirm that they are suitable donors. If there are anomalies in the bloods, the clinic will offer support and guidance, but the donor will be rejected.
9. If the screening process is successful, the donor is expected to provide weekly donations for a period of about six months. In return, he receives thirty five quid per donation to cover his time and expenses. Once the six-month quarantine period is over, he is asked to provide some information about himself for registration with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). He will also be asked to write something about himself for women who receive his sperm and any children born as a result of their donations.
10. At this, the final furlong, the few good men who haven't succumbed to rejection or exhaustion, may yet decide to quit. In the past, sperm donors were allowed to remain anonymous, but in 2005, the law changed and since then, any children born as a result of sperm or egg donation have a right to identify their genetic parents once they reach the age of 18. Its all very well having an altruistic orgasm over an adult magazine, but the prospect of umpteen adult offspring knocking on your door in 2033, clutching a tattered photocopy of whatever you have bothered to scribble is a very sobering thought. While no one is willing to directly associate the loss of anonymity with the decline in donations, it is telling that nine years after the law changed, the National Sperm Bank was established to try to counter a serious shortage of donor sperm. The National Sperm Bank estimates that it needs 1000 new registered donors every year to meet UK demand so.... only another 991 to find before Christmas. Good luck with that.
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