ROBERT RODRIGUEZ, the American filmmaker and screenwriter who directed cult classics such as Desperado and From Dusk till Dawn, once said: “I wish I could freeze time or go back in time over and over again because it is just going too fast.”
Indeed fatherhood has been going way too fast for me. Being invited as the guest speaker at my son Jack’s graduation evening was a tremendous honour, but at the same time also a personal moment of reflection. In a flash, my baby boy is all grown up and ready to start his journey of life abroad.
Today is the third Sunday of June, and also Father’s Day, celebrated since early in the 20th century to complement Mother’s Day in celebrating fathers and male parenting. And since the mid 1980s, Fathers’ Day has since become a second Christmas for all men’s gift orientated industries.
For fathers-to-be, a question often asked is – is it necessary to freeze the prospect of parenting until the paternal instinct is ready?
In the spirit of Father’s Day and paternal love, we address the issues of sperm banking and explore the pros and cons of preserving paternal genetic material for future uses and the possibilities of donation.
Dear Dr G,
My name is Nathan. I am approaching 26 years of age and currently in a relationship.
My girlfriend and I are modern thinkers and have talked about parenthood. Both of us have decided against having our own children in the future, judging from the financial and emotional burdens our friends face on a daily basis.
Although I have more or less made up my mind, I confess I have occasional doubt in my mind about the prospect of being a father.
I have been to my doctor and asked about vasectomy. He did not want to do the operation and told me I am too young and will change my mind.
I am seriously contemplating vasectomy as a form of contraception. In the meantime, I am also keen to have my sperms frozen until I am absolutely certain against fatherhood.
Can you please tell me which doctor will be willing to help me?
Can you also tell me how to go about freezing sperms? What is the process?
If I have decided not to use the sperms in the future, can they be donated?
By the way, Happy Father’s day!
Vasectomy is a form of male contraception gaining popularity amongst men. Increasingly, this is also a choice of modality to prevent pregnancy in couples who have made up their minds to be childless. Although there is no medical adversity in having a vasectomy at young age, many doctors may consider such a decision transient.
Ethically and professionally, doctors should explain the risks and benefits of such intervention and respect the patient’s decision. Of course, the preservation of the sperms for future use should also be discussed with men who decide to proceed.
A sperm bank or cryobank is a facility usually attached to fertility centres providing services for collection, analysis and storage of human sperm from patients and donors. The frozen sperms are aimed for future use when pregnancy is intended.
From a medical perspective, pregnancy achieved using frozen sperms is no different from a pregnancy achieved from natural sexual intercourse.
The man or donor is usually asked to produce and capture the ejaculate at a sperm bank or clinic by masturbation in a private room. The room is eloquently known as a “Men’s production room” in the UK, expressively termed “Donor Cabin” in European nations and Crudely called “masturbatorium” in the USA.
Movie portrayals of the facility’s provision of “girlie mags” and pornographic materials to assist the arousal of men to facilitate ejaculation is accurate. However, in the modern age, most men have sufficient “assisting material” downloadable from their handheld devices.
In special circumstances, semen collection from donors after sexual intercourse, with the use of collection condoms may be permissible. However, third party assistance in the clinic is mainly prohibited.
One typical ejaculate can produce 1 to 20 vials of samples. Before freezing, the samples may be washed or unwashed depending on the mode of insemination which can include Intra Cervical Insemination (ICI), Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or In-vitro Insemination (IVF).
The sperm is stored between 0.4ml to 1.0ml with cryogenically nitrogen preservation. Although charges are imposed to discourage prolonged storage, there is generally no upper limit of the interval of sperm freezing. In the United Kingdom, a healthy baby was conceived after the utilisation of sperm frozen for 21 years.
Although the thought of the frozen gametes being used as donor sperms for childless couples due to male infertility is noble, the process is so well regulated by the authorities that such practices will usually undergo stringent scrutiny. This may include thorough health examinations and screening for sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and syphilis.
The famous Academy Award winning film director for American Beauty and the latest Bond movies, Sam Mendes, once said: “ In life, you freeze with the number of opportunities given to you and just decided to do nothing about it at all.”
With the benefit of modern technology, the frozen sperms in the freezers will also ensure the opportunity of fatherhood can be frozen and deferred.
But a word of advice from Dr G who is also an extremely proud father: “Frozen fatherhood is also delayed joy of the amazing journey of being a father!”
Happy Father’s Day to all the celebrating dads today!
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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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