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Hand Delivered

Posted Mar 01 2008 12:00am


Sperm donating requires months of interviewing, medical testing, and frequent “depositing”

Story by Naomi Pearson // Photography by Michelle Bersani

Picture this — you’re sitting in a plush leather recliner, in front of you a wall-mounted flat-screen television and the DVD player connected to it fully loaded with X-rated films. On a coffee table next to you rests a stack of the most recent issues of the glossiest, most richly colored pornographic magazines and at your fingertips, that seven inches of power — the remote control.  You lock the door and you are “the master of your domain,” unwinding after a hard day of classes and work. Or — you are a sperm donor.

Sperm donation seems like a simple way to assist women in their quest for motherhood. A man spends a little quality time with himself and some porn in the privacy of a doctor’s office and he’s done. And a little richer. Or so goes popular belief.

Many potential donors and even some potential recipients “think we just put a sign up in the window and men just walk in,” says Maureen Burke, sales manager for New England Cryogenic Center, Inc., in Boston. She says that popular media often reinforces that misconception.
In reality, the process of sperm donation involves much more than getting paid for a date with one’s hand. Becoming a donor requires a high level of patience, commitment and self-discipline, and occasionally, education.

There are basically three types of donors. Anonymous donors have their identity kept confidential forever. “Open identification” donors express a willingness to be contacted by any future offspring when they turn 18.  “Known” or “directed” donors have a personal acquaintance with the prospective mother.

Some labs that collect donations, like the Sperm Bank of New York, which has offices in New York City, require that their donors already hold a bachelor’s or more advanced degree; others require that donors, at the least, be currently enrolled in college.

Sperm donation requires a greater time commitment than many currently enrolled college students have, according to Albert Anouna, the director of Biogenics Corp., the distribution arm of the Sperm Bank of New York. Each donor must make contributions every two to three days, or twice a week. Other sperm banks, like the New England Cryobank in Boston, actively recruit college students in their local area. But of the two nearest laboratories, the aforementioned Sperm Bank is in NYC and one is in Rochester, so traveling to either location would require a good chunk of free time.

Just to be considered a potential donor, a man first must fill out a lot of paperwork — many companies, including the ones above, offer their preliminary application and questionnaires online. If he qualifies after the review of his application, the company will invite him to the office for the first of several interviews. He will then complete an extensive 10-20 page questionnaire, detailing practically every aspect of his life, from his medical history to that of his great-grandparents, from his educational career to his hobbies and much more. The potential donor will also undergo a battery of tests, including a complete physical examination and personality and intelligence tests.

Only a small percentage of applicants are accepted as sperm donors. The Sperm Bank of New York reports less than 1 percent of all applicants become donors; another says only one in 20 of those make it past the first screening.

Once the man has been accepted as a donor, all technicalities are explained to him. He must commit between six months to a year of his life to being a donor. If he backs out, there will generally be a financial penalty since all that testing is expensive, up to $7,500, estimates Anouna.

The man must also decide if he wants to be a completely anonymous donor or if he wants to be an “open ID” donor, so children produced from his contribution would be able to look him up and possibly contact him in the future. This may vary by institution. For instance, at the Sperm Bank of New York, this decision is irreversible, Anouna says. Moreover, according to the company Web site, “open ID” means the donor’s identity is revealed to the prospective parents, and they meet each other. At the California Cryobank, on the other hand, donors have about three months to make that final decision and even if they opt for anonymity, they can later indicate a willingness to be contacted, explains development coordinator Andrea Stratton. Others have a policy of all their donors being “open ID.”

Upon making his choice, a man has a minimum six-month quarantine period, before any of his sperm are released, during which he makes regular deposits at the office. The sperm undergoes quarantine during this time while the donor is medically monitored for any later-developing infections. After the probation, the donor will get paid $75-100 every two weeks.

The rules are slightly less stringent if a man wishes to be what is termed a “known donor.” That means he has agreed to provide the biological material for a female acquaintance who wishes to get pregnant. In that case, explains Nancy*, a registered nurse at The CNY Fertility Center in Syracuse, there will be a physical exam and some blood work done to make sure the donor is free of sexually transmitted diseases. The sperm still goes through a three-month quarantine — just in case. There may also be a discussion of legal and financial responsibilities if the woman fails to pay the bill and his name is on the contract. There’s no discussion of parental responsibilities, however — that is between the woman and the donor.

Then it’s off to the room with the recliner, the television and the stack of magazines.

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