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Is Free Sperm Donation Safe?

In October 2011, several stories were in the news about free sperm donors who didn’t insist on anonymity and interviewed Beth Gardner who started the Free Sperm Donor Registry.

So if you can find a sperm donor for free, why use a sperm bank? “What we’re really talking about is the safety,” says Cappy Rothman, M.D., co-founder and medical director of California Cryobank. “Sperm that a recipient is purchasing [from a sperm bank] has been screened for sexually transmitted diseases, and the donor has been screened for genetic diseases.”

The Screening Process

Before even being accepted as a potential donor, the sperm bank obtains two or three sperm counts from the donor. “The biggest reason we do not accept a donor is because the semen is not good enough,” Dr. Rothman says.

Once accepted, the potential donor is seen by two genetic counselors to rule out various diseases such as cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular dystrophy. “One of the reasons we might disqualify a donor is because there might be a history of mental illness in the family, even a distant cousin or sibling, or there might evidence of cancer,” Dr. Rothman says.

The sperm bank also runs blood work on the potential donor. “We do a lot of blood work to make sure their chemistries are normal, such as if they have very high cholesterol,” Dr. Rothman says. Other reasons a potential donor may be screened out are subjective, such as the donor is too short or too overweight.

After all the tests are run, the specimen is quarantined for six months, and the donor is restudied to confirm the absence of sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV. “By storing that sperm and studying that man again at three month intervals, you are assured that the specimen that you have at the time is now free of all those diseases because there was no conversion.”

By using a sperm bank, Dr. Rothman says you are choosing sperm donations from “a man that is very qualified, very healthy, free of known genetic diseases that we could discover and free of sexually transmitted diseases.”

According to Dr. Rothman, out of every 1,000 men who want to donate sperm at California Cryobank, the sperm bank only accepts nine. “It is more difficult to be a donor at California Cryobank than it is to be accepted at Harvard.”

You Can Use a Known Sperm Donor

Many of the women interviewed for the articles on free sperm donation said they wanted the child to know the donor instead of using an anonymous sperm bank donor. But you can use a "directed" donor — one that you bring to the sperm bank.

"A directed donor is a known donor that goes through the appropriate protocol of being worked up for sexually transmitted diseases, genetic studies, quarantined and insemination with a doctor," Dr. Rothman says. "Then there is no legal binding between the child and the donor."


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