By Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD
With the shortage of sperm donors the Queensland Fertility Group, the largest fertility facility in Townsville has resorted to importing sperm from United States. This facility, some 1,300 Kilometers from Brisbane is reportedly paying $700-800 an ampoule for the imported sperm. This is a new situation. Earlier the facility had a large number of donors of which a huge number were the university students but there has been a steady decline in donors with many north Queensland men, or even Australian men who are not prepared to donate.
According to infertility specialist Dr Ron Chang this decline could be due to the recent legal changes that mandate sperm donors to be contactable once the child they helped to conceive turns 18. “All the donors stopped coming forward because they didn't want a knock on the door in 18 years time….I think children should have the right to know their biological parents, but it has a knock-on effect,” he said. Queensland Fertility Group Cairns clinical director Dr Bob Miller echoed these thoughts and said, “In the old days, they used to sort of donate and forget… Now the donors have to be registered and go for quite a bit of tests before they're allowed to donate… It means that the offspring cannot find them until they grow up to 18, but they can find them and find out who their father is, if they want to…. These things are very good ethically, but it means that we don't have many donors.”
Townsville psychologist, Dr Joanne Lukins also cited similar reasons for decline in Australian donors. “There is a big difference between making an anonymous donation, which doesn't have any carry-on effect, to meeting someone down the track in 18 or so years…I can't imagine there are too many men doing it for financial gain, it's more of an altruistic offering, with strings attached….It's a real shame, though, that a wonderful gift that is given to people is diminished because of those legislation changes but I would agree with Dr Chan, that the opportunity for a child to know their father down the track is important….The downside to that, of course, is that obviously some people won't have the chance to start families and they end up on waiting lists,” she said.
Apart from the legislation, the battery of tests including psychological assessment before the donation, complete family and medical history and life style declaration before donation and thereafter every three months while donation has been further deterrents according to Dr. Miller. He explained that one donor could not help conceive more than 10 babies and usually these samples are frozen and preserved in liquid nitrogen for six months before they can be used. These factors combined have made infertile couples having to wait longer before they can become parents.
Thus the decision to import the sperms was taken according to Dr. Miller. “I think if the importation of sperm from the States stopped, there would be a lot of disadvantaged couples,” he said. Dr. Chan also said, “It's a big step for someone to put their hand up and say we want to donate sperm or eggs…It's not like donating blood. There is quite a lot of manipulation and counseling that goes along with it and there are a lot of other implications down the track.” “It's a very special, emotive and generous gift,” he signed off.