Sperm donation creates families when nature can't

By - May 9th 2023

Those up to date with controversies may have read about a prolific sperm donor in Europe. Over the years, he has been so generous with sperm donation to the extent that over 500 children are thought to have been born from his sperm.

And this is not only in Europe, but in other continents as well, owing to the availability of his sperm in international commercial sperm banks. He has now been banned from ever donating again. Enforcing this will be tricky as he has been known to disguise his ID to enable him to continue donating.

What is not controversial is the fertility practice of sperm donation. In fact, sperm donation is known to have been in existence for thousands of years, possibly dating back to ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. Back in the 1800s, there was documentation of a physician who used his own sperm to inseminate a patient, resulting in the successful birth of a baby. While this was not a formalized process of sperm donation, its success contributed to the evolution of modern donation protocols.

Sperm donation is mainly used to help couples when the man has a condition that negates the use of his own sperm. There are several untreatable conditions in which men are unable to generate their own sperm. Examples include rare genetic conditions or situations where the testes have been damaged by certain disease conditions like cancer.

The only remedy for such men’s female partners is the use of donated sperm. As is increasingly becoming common, sperm donation is also applicable in same-sex relationships. Modern fertility practice has an ever-increasing need for sperm donation.

In current practice, there are restrictions in place to guide the ethics and safety of sperm donation. Sperm donors should be in good health and relatively young, ideally below the age of 40.

They must be free of both infectious diseases and some known genetic conditions. Ideally, there should be national (and international) sperm donor databases regulating how much a single sperm donor can donate. This is important in order to avoid future inadvertent incest, or inbreeding, which may result in genetic abnormalities and birth defects.

There is also the matter of donor anonymity. Some jurisdictions support the use of anonymous sperm donors, meaning that both the donor and the recipient remain unknown to each other and can only be linked within fertility clinic data.

Others mandate that donors must sign into national databases and waive anonymity, opening up the possibility of being identified in the future. Today’s easily available genealogy testing and tracing means anonymous donation cannot be completely guaranteed.  

Some are opposed to the practice of sperm donation. This may be due to cultural norms, religious beliefs, or other reasons. What cannot be in doubt is that countless couples have fulfilled their family dreams by using donated sperm.

Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynecologist and Fertility Specialist.


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