Anonymous sperm donation needed: fertility experts
Published Wednesday, October 27, 2010 8:25PM EDT
VANCOUVER - For Shawn Abrahim, donating sperm is a lot like giving blood -- there's people out there who need it, but there's not enough to go around.
So a few years ago, the Canadian-born Guyanese man went to Canada's only sperm bank and gave a sample for testing purposes.
"People want to have families and some people basically can't. And it's something I have plenty of," said the Ontario man, adding he knows there's not enough ethnically diverse samples.
Shortly after beginning the process, however, he started a relationship with a woman who objected. They've since broken up, and now the 26-year-old is pondering donation again.
But a lawsuit in British Columbia Supreme Court, aiming to end anonymity for donors, has given him new pause.
"I still feel those reasons are important," he said. "But it would definitely make me have second thoughts, which could lead to me changing my mind in the face of other issues."
Only 40 men in Canada donate their sperm.
Fertility experts are warning that the Vancouver trial examining the rights of children conceived through artificial insemination could have major repercussions for a reproductive industry already facing a semen shortage.
Nanaimo, B.C.-born Olivia Pratten, now a journalist with The Canadian Press in Toronto, is challenging the courts to order that donor records be kept so they can be passed to children born of reproductive technologies when they turn of age.
The 28-year-old, conceived with the help of a sperm donor in a Vancouver clinic, has fought for more than a decade to learn her biological father's identity.
While that's no longer her main goal, Pratten is hoping her lawyer -- who continued to argue the case on Wednesday -- will convince the judge to toss out B.C.'s Adoption Act in favour of new legislation that includes offspring of donors. That way, others like her will have the option of learning more about their roots.
But experts oppose changing the rules.
"We're not trying to make it difficult for people to know their biological parent," said Dr. Albert Yuzpe, who co-founded Vancouver's Genesis Fertility Centre and before that spent 26 years heading the reproductive medicine department at the University of Western Ontario.
"The problem is, in countries where they have legislated (disclosure), the number of volunteer donors has gone down quite significantly."
Yuzpe feels Pratten's pursuit is misguided, saying donor protocol has changed significantly since the woman's birth.
"It was usually the medical student who walked the slowest past the doctor's office that got picked to be the sperm donor," he said. "There was no great screening process."
Today, would-be parents can peruse in-depth profiles of potential donors. It means vital information, like medical history, doesn't remain a question mark.
Altruistic men must also be prepared for nearly nine months of rigorous testing, including a 30-page lifestyle questionnaire, physical exam and sperm analysis, and infectious disease and genetic screening. Samples are frozen and thawed, and then more samples are quarantined for 180 days before being rescreened for disease.
It's all done for free. In 2004, the enactment of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act made it a federal offence to pay donors for their semen.
That prompted all but one sperm collection clinic from shutting its doors. Toronto's ReproMed Institute stores the sperm of the 40 Canadian men who choose to donate. Staff there are also concerned about the case's ramifications.
Yuzpe's clinic imports its sperm from three banks in the United States, which all comply with Health Canada's rigid sperm regulations. One of those banks provides sperm where the majority of its donors -- each paid about $75 -- already agree to identity disclosure.
His clinic also maintains records in perpetuity, as does the bank in Toronto, because of an injunction Pratten helped secure.
"What (Pratten is) asking to be changed is something that's already changing on its own," said Yuzpe.
Canada's laws around egg donations, requiring couples to procure them themselves, points to the problem of eliminating anonymity, said Sue Dumais, a fertility specialist with Family Passages in Vancouver.
She said the law also pushes women who haven't found help from a friend or sister to go to the U.S. where they can make an anonymous purchase.
"My personal opinion? As a man at the age of whatever, to have 12 children to come to me and say 'Oh, you're my dad,' I think that would scare them."