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Tue, Nov 23, 2010
The New Paper
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So many couples, so little sperm
by Gan Ling Kai

By Gan Ling Kai

THE demand is there but the spirit is unwilling. And so, despite the critical need from couples for sperm, the supply is dwindling.

Reasons: It could feel "funny". It would be "weird". There could be strange consequences later.

One fertility expert reckons that, at his hospital alone, there are eight couples vying for a single donation. Only three hospitals - Singapore General Hospital (SGH), National University Hospital (NUH) and KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) - have sperm banks within their fertility centres.

They serve seven private fertility centres which help couples undergo assisted-reproduction treatments at their clinics.

And in all three sperm banks, demand outstrips supply.

Dr Loh Seong Feei, director of the KKIVF Centre and National Sperm Bank, told The New Paper on Sunday that KKH used to have one or two sperm donors every year.

For the past five years, however, there hasn't been a single donor.

At SGH, only eight men have donated their sperm over the last five years.

The figures are just as pathetic at NUH, which receives one or two donations a year.

Professor P C Wong, head of the division of reproductive endocrinology and fertility at NUH, said recently that the shortage could be due to the fact that "Singaporeans in general are not too altruistic".

But most of the men The New Paper on Sunday spoke to said it has nothing to do with altruism.

Only four out of 20 of them would consider donating their sperm in the future. One was undecided, while the remaining 15 said no without hesitation.

Mr Allan Tan, 32, a business risk manager, who is a father of two, said: "This has nothing to do with altruism. I have been a regular blood donor (about 10 times over the last decade). Donating blood is definitely more painful than donating sperm.

"I'm not donating sperm only because I don't want that child (born out of the donation) to be teased by his friends when he grows up for not looking like the man he calls 'dad'.

"Moreover, what if he falls in love with one of my daughters in future? Wouldn't that be incest?"

For Mr Patrick Yap, a 32-year-old civil servant who is a father of two, it is an"issue of responsibility".

To him, whoever gives life to the baby should be the caregiver.

Mr Yap said: "It would feel funny to know that there are kids sharing your genes and running about (the country), and you don't even know who they are."

Mr Nicholas Goh, 37, a graphic designer, agrees. "Wouldn't it be weird if someone comes up to you and says 'Hey, that boy looks like you!'?" said Mr Goh. Even the four respondents who said they were open to being sperm donors felt that there is too little incentive to do so.

Not paid

Sperm donors are not paid for their donation. They are reimbursed only for transport costs, said Dr Loh. Mr Eugene Lum, a 30-year-old human resource executive, said: "It would be nice if I can get some vouchers for my contribution."

Mr Raymond Khoo, 34, a property agent, agreed. "I may consider being a sperm donor, but for such an inconvenience, the incentive is not attractive."

The system does not make it easy to donate.

Donors must make at least six trips to the donation centre over the minimum period of six months for all the necessary screening to be completed.

Dr Loh pointed out that sperm donors must be between 18 and 40 years old.

"They are thoroughly screened for their background, social habits and health characteristics," he added.

All potential donors are checked for hereditary and chronic illnesses,and sexually transmitted diseases.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health told The New Paper on Sunday that in Singapore, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures and related assisted-reproductive technologies are carried out only on married women with the consent of their husband.

No woman is allowed to use sperm donated by her brothers for the fertilisation of her eggs.

Sperm donations are anonymous and couples can make requests only to determine ethnicity and blood group.

Assisted reproduction was in the news recently when a woman who underwent IVF treatment at Thomson Fertility Centre in January received sperm that did not belong to her husband.

The couple found out only when the child was born last month.The baby had a different skin tone from the parents - a Chinese Singaporean woman and her Caucasian husband who is a permanent resident.

The majority of assisted reproduction cases here involve the woman's eggs and her husband's sperm. Sperm donations are needed when there are problems with the husband's sperm.

What alternatives do couples who require sperm have?

Dr Loh said that various options have been explored.

For example, microsurgical operation can be performed on men with testicular failure to retrieve sperm from their testes.

Some couples have been advised to help themselves by looking for a willing donor, possibly an acquaintance.

Couples can also import sperm from foreign sperm banks, though such a service can be costly.

A vial of donated sperm, which can be used for only one fertilisation, costs between $2,000 and $3,000 at some clinics, including the freight cost of about $1,000.

Sperm is frozen in a cryopreservation medium to ensure it survives the flight.

UK docs: Pay sperm donors more

THE body that regulates fertility treatment in Britain is considering increasing compensation for egg and sperm donors.

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) told BBC News recently: "We will be looking at a number of issues related to donation policies, one of which will be compensation given to donors. We haven't decided on a figure."

The HFEA is holding a three-month public consultation into its donation policies, starting in January.

In Britain, egg and sperm donors cannot be paid but they can claim "reasonable expenses" for travel and loss of earnings.

This is limited to a maximum of 250 pounds (about $520) per cycle of egg donation or course of sperm donation.

Some fertility experts in Britain say this is too low to attract donors, and they should be paid more for their time and efforts.

There is concern over the number of Britons travelling to countries such as Spain to receive assisted reproduction treatments because of shortages of donated eggs and sperm at home.

In China, sperm shortage is breeding frustration, China Daily reported recently.

Cultural stigma as well as restrictions on donations from men over 45 and homosexuals, have resulted in a serious shortage of sperm and an average nine-month wait for infertile couples seeking artificial insemination services.

The regulations set by the Chinese government are clear: Only healthy men between the ages of 22 and 45 can give sperm, and only once in their lifetime.

Sperm from one donor can be provided to a maximum of five married women (singles are not eligible) and cannot be distributed again after a recipient becomes pregnant.

The restriction is to reduce the risk of marriages between men and women borne from the same man - the anonymous donor.

In the US, the medical screening of donors has been fairly basic. The sperm would be checked for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and some chromosomal abnormalities, but little else.

With such lack of control, Mr Kirk Maxey, who is now a doctor, regularly donated sperm as a medical student during the 1980s.

After donating for a period of 16 years - getting US$20 (about $26) per deposit - Dr Maxey estimated that he had spawned more than 200 children.


This article was first published in The New Paper.


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