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A Sperm Bank Responds to Critics

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a blog by Michelle Ottey, PhD, Director of Operations, Fairfax Cryobank and Cryogenic Laboratories, Inc., September 13, 2011

To read more of Michelle Ottey's Adventures in Donor Sperm blogs, CLICK HERE.

A recent article on sperm donation did not accurately reflect the way that sperm banks now distribute sperm or the way that we provide information to clients and their offspring. Every reputable sperm bank, for instance, adheres to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) guidelines for distribution of an individual donor's sperm based on population genetics. Most sperm banks also have their own internal limits on donor production and distribution to avoid creating very large sibling groups.

Limiting the Number of Siblings

In 2008, Fairfax Cryobank and Cryogenic Laboratories, Inc. (CLI) adopted a policy designed to limit each donor to producing 25 to 30 family units in the United States. To achieve this, we must rely on the patients to report their pregnancies and births to us so that we can accurately track the information and stop distribution of a particular sperm donor when his family unit limit is met. Our reporting process is easy and can be done online, over the phone or via fax. We need our patients to report their pregnancies and births to ensure that we can accurately track the numbers for each sperm donor.

As an additional way to limit the number of offspring, we calculate a ratio of the number of vials of donor sperm to pregnancies and limit the total number of vials a sperm donor can create. Once a family unit limit is met, the only units that can be distributed would be for sibling pregnancies so that patients can have children who are genetically full siblings to their previous child(ren.) These internal limits were the direct result of our management listening to the feedback from patients and offspring. We decided to limit the number of samples from each donor in order to limit the size of sibling groups.

Unfortunately, some patients who no longer need the sperm will sell or give unused vials of sperm to others who wish to become pregnant. Therefore, the sperm bank does not always know how many families are using a donor's sperm because of this "gray market." The gray market makes our task somewhat more difficult.

Medical Histories of Sperm Donors

Over the years, our sperm bank has continued to add to the medical information we provide to help patients choose their sperm donor, as well as providing medical histories for offspring. Of course, an individual's medical situation may change over time, and we have implemented an easy-to-use system that allows our sperm donors to log into a secure website and update both their personal and family medical information.

Our active sperm donors understand when they start the Sperm Donor Program, we will follow up with them over time and stay in contact to continually update medical information. We have also made significant efforts to contact previous sperm donors in order to obtain updated accurate medical information. We publish the updates on summary profiles. If anything of concern is discovered when we receive an update, including any issue that has the potential to affect offspring, we investigate and notify clients if it is necessary.

ID or Anonymous Sperm Donoros

At Fairfax Cryobank Cryogenic Laboratories, Inc., we recognize that offspring may want to know more personal details about their sperm donor, and we provide profiles, audio interviews, photos, etc. The information available on Fairfax and CLI donors is extensive and is probably more detailed than the information most people know about a good friend.

For people who want the option of personal contact with their sperm donor, patients now have the choice between Anonymous or ID Option donors. If the birth has been registered, the Fairfax Cryobank and CLI ID Option programs will release the information to the offspring when he or she reaches 18 if the offspring wants to make contact. This is a guarantee. These ID release programs were not always an option in the past, but most sperm banks offer ID donors now.

Advocating Disclosure

We are committed to providing the very highest quality, best screened donor sperm possible so that individuals and couples faced with medical or social infertility can fulfill their dreams and build their families.

We advocate openness and disclosure of a child's origins to the child regardless of a patient’s relationship status. It is widely accepted that disclosure happens more often with single mothers and lesbian couples than it does with heterosexual couples who have conceived via donor insemination (DI). We encourage all patients to disclose their child’s donor origin to the child. It has also been observed and is widely accepted that making the child’s donor conception part of their birth story from the beginning normalizes the experience.

Fairfax and CLI have conducted annual surveys that will be presented at the ASRM annual conference in October. In these surveys the majority of our patients indicate that if they elect to disclose the child's donor origin to the child, they do it before the child is 10 years old. Openness and disclosure will help to ensure that should half siblings meet accidentally, they will not partner romantically.

Fairfax Cryobank and CLI also recognize the desire of some recipients and offspring to make half sibling connections, and so we started our Family Forums. The forums provide a free, secure arena in which recipients with a registered birth can connect in a donor specific thread. They are guaranteed to be connecting with others who have used the same sperm donor. Our forums are also a wonderful resource for information and updates about the sperm donors. Working with the source, the sperm bank itself, is the only way to ensure verified and accurate information.

Responding to Critics

It is my opinion that the sperm banks, Fairfax and CLI specifically, actually are providing services that meet many of the goals stated by our most outspoken critics. It is through rational and informed discussion that positive change occurs. Flexibility, openness, education, science and psychology are all necessary in making decisions about managing sperm banks and sperm donors. The progress that has been made and the change that has occurred are rarely acknowledged by the critics — they reference the “industry” as it existed in the past without referencing accurate procedures of the present.

In addition, even though they used donors they knew were anonymous to build their families, some of these critics of the donor sperm banks are trying to hunt down the very same men who gave them the gift of a family knowing that these men intended to remain anonymous. They want the sperm banks that promised anonymity to these men to break that promise, which we will not do, just as we do not break our commitment to patients.

The missions of Fairfax Cryobank and Cryogenic Laboratories, Inc. are based on the fundamental desire to provide the highest quality donor sperm from the most rigorously screened sperm donors to patients in order to build healthy families. Tens of thousands of children have been born through donor insemination, and that number is growing every day. If anyone believes that the mission of our Cryobanks is self-serving or simply to “make money and get people pregnant,” they are mistaken. We work, every day, to make it possible for people to build their families. We are committed to serving our patients with compassion, knowledge and openness. We are open to change and have demonstrated this through the evolution of our internal procedures.

We are also open to fair and rational discussion in order to further our mission.

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