Dear Dr. G,

I am a married 32-year-old man with three kids. My wife and I often feel very blessed as we have a healthy sex life and managed to get three kids consecutively without facing too much obstacles.

In fact, my wife is a bit worried that I might be a bit too fertile, even the withdrawal method of contraception had resulted in pregnancy in all three occasions. She suggested I should consider a vasectomy. However, I just don’t think I am ready for that.

On the contrary, my older brother and his wife who have been married for eight years has been having difficulties conceiving. On one occasion, my sister-in-law mentioned I should consider donating my sperm. I felt rather embarrassed, as I just wasn’t sure if she meant donating to them or just in general.

In fact, I am seriously thinking about having a vasectomy, as I am sure we have completed the family. However, prior to the snip, I would like to know more about the sperm donation.

How long has sperm donation been practiced? Is it regulated and legal?

Is sperm donation anonymous or can the donation be given to a specific member of family?

What is the age of donor eligibility, and what tests will I need to go through to qualify?

Lastly, what will be the legal and ethnical implication of sperm donation?

In the spirit of Christmas of giving and charity, I really hope you can shed some light on the art of sharing fertility.

Merry Christmas.


Fertile Father

The documented history of artificial insemination of sperm dates back to 1884, when a Professor from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia provided the sperm from his “best looking” medical student, to inseminate the wife of a sterile Quaker merchant at his request. The sperm was syringed into the cervix of the wife, who was sedated with chloroform. She was never told how she became pregnant and the experiment resulted in a healthy son born and the first known child by the outcome of donor insemination.

The practice of artificial insemination with donor sperms remained intensively private and secretive until after the second World War, when the British Journal of Medicine published documents from a clinic in London. The clinic offered artificial insemination using “donor” sperm for women whose husbands were infertile. The clinic helped to conceive 1,500 babies, out of which the gynecologist’s husband probably fathered about 600.

As the practice of Assisted Reproductive Technology evolved from the era of the first test tube baby, sperm donation usage has gained acceptance and popularity in 1980’s and 1990’s. In many Western countries, a large number of sperm banks provide a large pool of choices for infertile couples. These days, there are even pioneers of on-line search catalogues for donor sperm widely available for fertility clinics.

Although the practice and restrictions are quite variable between countries, the use of donor sperms is subjected to state and professional regulations. These include donor anonymity and the number of offspring that may be generated from the single source. There are also strict legal protections of rights and responsibilities of both recipients and donors that need to be considered.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration requires basic screening for infectious diseases such as HIV, and certain risk factors before a man can become donor. Genetic testing for hereditary diseases is also commonly done. Most sperm banks also require donors to be between the ages of 18 and 39. Some may even set the upper limit to be 34, as these are the crème de la cream of fertile men!

There is no health risk associated with sperm donation, apart from general anxiety and slightly strained arm. The donor is expected to abstain from ejaculation two to three days prior to the donation. The samples that meet the standards are usually quarantined for at least six months, before “let loose”, so the sperm can be tested for infectious diseases again.

Private or direct donation is less common. This involves insemination by a third-party seeking assistance directly from a friend or family member. Such arrangements are usually “hush-hush” and the legal protections of the donor may not be as robust as the anonymous providers.

Charles Dicken’s On London once stated: “Charity begins at home and Justice begins next door.” Indeed, most of us whom became parents “effortlessly” often take it for granted being blessed with “natural” fertility. With the evolving attitude of raising family much later in life, there is increasing number of couples having the challenging obstacles of conception naturally. Although the act of sperm provision is harmless, the donor should consider the wider implications of offering the opportunity to be the biological fathers of unknown future offspring.

When Dr. G is put on the spot on his view of the “Charity of sharing fertility”; his view is: “charity at home or next door is justice only when it is carefully thought out!” On that note, have a charitable Christmas to fertile men and all readers.

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