The first Secretary of State and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, once said: “I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another!” Jefferson was a spokesman for democracy and embraced the principles of republicanism and rights of the individual with worldwide influence.
Recently, I was interviewed alongside a colleague representing the National Blood Transfusion Centre by a local radio station for the 2015 blood donor recruitment campaign.
It is heart-warming to know that Malaysians are incredibly generous in donating blood. I am certain that these donors derive satisfaction knowing that they will be able to save many lives especially in times of crisis.
In fact, one of the challenges faced by the Transfusion Centre was to cope with the sudden surge of fellow Malaysians donating blood following the recent calamities faced by the country. Of course, the stringent process of ensuring the safety and protection of both the donors and recipients are paramount!
With that in mind, I would like to address a query from a reader with another type of “donation”. Perhaps a bit more controversial, dealing with issues concerning the “pleasure of giving” when it comes to sperm donation for childless couples.
Dear Dr G,
Happy New Year!!
I recently watched a movie called the ‘Delivery Man’ starring Vince Vaughan, apparently inspired by the hit Canadian comedy, ‘Starbucks’.
It was a charming film portraying a sperm donor haunted by his past “generosity” with the outcome of “fathering” 533 children.
Although this Hollywood depiction of an affable underachiever whose mundane life is turned upside down when hit with a lawsuit of his grown-up biological offspring wanting to know the identity of the donor is far fetch. I cannot help but raise questions about sperm donation.
First of all, is there any risk in donating sperms? Who exactly donate sperms and what are the criteria required? What characteristics are normally recorded for the potential recipients? How protected are the identities of the donors? Are there payments involved and what tests are done for the donors before assessing the suitability of donation?
Of course, there are also the recipients. Are the identities of the recipients also protected?
I am not really considering the prospect of donating my gametes. However, I guess I can be persuaded to contribute if I meet the criteria. But more importantly, the consideration of helping thousands of childless couples out there. I look forward to your answers.
Sperm donation is the provision by a man, of his sperm, for the purpose of inseminating a woman who is not his sexual partner. Such donation is normally done through a sperm bank or fertility clinic.
However, in some countries, direct donation to an intended recipient is also possible. The recipients of the donated sperms are predominantly heterosexual couples with issues of male infertility. In certain societies, the recipients may controversially include lesbian couples or single women.
Pregnancies with donor sperms are usually achieved by ARTs (Assisted Reproductive Technologies), which include IVF (in vitro fertilisation) or IUI (intrauterine insemination), a process of intra-vaginal insemination done in clinic or at home.
Sperm donation through natural insemination by a donor is also practised in certain countries. The lack of safety precautions and the ethics of such donation are way beyond contemplation!
Fertility clinics and sperm banks are subjected to varying regulations on donor anonymity and the number of offspring that may be produced by an individual donor. In addition, there are also legal protections of the rights and responsibilities for both recipients and donors.
Generally, a man who donates sperms gives up all legal rights over the biological children from his gametes.
The fertility centres normally provide basic information of the donors such as racial origin, skin colour, height, weight, colour of eyes and blood group. Most banks will require the donors to be between 18 and 35 years old. I guess they are the “crème de la crème” of society.
Some clinics can even be specific to recruit donors of certain academic calibre (I often wonder if more charges are incurred for the treatment of utilising “premium” donor sperms).
Donors may or may not be paid for the “trouble” of their contributions. Most centres would avoid enticing donors and encourage volunteering. However, even for unpaid donors, the expenses are usually reimbursed.
The sperm banks typically screen the potential donors for genetic diseases and sexually transmitted infections. The screening procedure will include a quarantine period of six months, after which the donors will be re-tested for infections, to prevent unidentified diseases during the incubation period.
This is truly reassuring for the recipients. The process of sperm donation is not as simple as ejaculating in a pot, and getting paid for the “pleasure”, as depicted in Hollywood scripts.
The Chinese philosopher and scholar, Lao Tzu once said: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love”. I guess when it come to sperm donation, the “pleasure” of giving will truly create love and satisfaction for millions of childless couples in the world.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Dr George Lee is a consultant Urologist and Clinical Associate Professor whose professional interest is in men’s health. The column “Ask Dr G” is a forum to help men debunk the myths and taboos on men’s issues that may be too “hard” to mention. You can send him questions at firstname.lastname@example.org