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Sperm donors a rare breed

  Monday, 15 l 11 l 2010 Source:  The Straits Times   
By: Melissa Pang

Lack of perks, ‘rigid’ rules among reasons cited; some couples turning to foreign sperm banks  

spermNOT enough men are donating their sperm to the sperm banks at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), National University Hospital (NUH) and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). At SGH, only eight men have donated their sperm in the last five years, said Dr Yu Su Ling, a senior consultant at its department of obstetrics and gynaecology and director of the hospital’s Centre for Assisted Reproduction.

The numbers are just as dismal at NUH, which receives “one to two donations every year”, said Professor P.C. Wong, head of the division of reproductive endocrinology and fertility. “For every one donation, there would be about eight couples who need it,” he added. KKH did not reply to queries from The Straits Times, but it is understood that the situation there is no better. Prof Wong said a reason for the shortage could be that “Singaporeans in general are not too altruistic”. Sperm donors here are not paid for their donations. They are reimbursed only for transport costs arising from trips to and from the clinic.  Professor S.C. Ng of the privately run O&G Partners Fertility Centre at Gleneagles Hospital attributed the dearth to the “clear and rigid” guidelines for sperm donors that make it harder for a man to donate his sperm.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said all prospective donors are interviewed and screened. This includes a detailed physical examination and laboratory tests to see if the donor has any genetically inheritable or infectious diseases. Tests are repeated before his sperm ? or gametes ? can be used. Donations are anonymous and couples can make requests related to only ethnicity and blood group. Said Prof Wong: “There is already a limited supply of donor sperm. Couples cannot afford to be choosy.”

Only the three public hospitals have sperm banks within their fertility centres. The seven private fertility centres here turn to them whenever couples undergoing assisted reproduction treatments at their clinics require a sperm donation. Any sperm that they collect and process is from men seeking treatment at their clinics. Assisted reproduction was in the news recently when The Straits Times reported that a Singaporean woman who underwent in-vitro fertilisation treatment at Thomson Fertility Centre received sperm that did not belong to her husband. DNA tests showed that the child was biologically related only to her. The majority of assisted reproduction cases involve the mother’s eggs and father’s sperm, but sperm donations are needed when the man is unable to produce any sperm.

Doctors said some couples have had to turn to overseas sperm banks because of the shortage. The Centre for Assisted Reproduction (Care) at Paragon Medical, for example, imports sperm from accredited banks in the United States and Europe a few times a year, said its chief embryologist Angela Ho. Imported sperm is requested by the centre’s foreign and expatriate clients, who need sperm from Caucasian men that is even harder to come by in Singapore. The service does not come cheap. At Care, a vial of donated sperm, which can be used for only one fertilisation, costs between $2,000 and $3,000. This includes the freight cost of about $1,000. Sperm is frozen in a cryopreservation medium to ensure it survives the flight.

Couples can request the type of sperm they want from the foreign sperm banks. Ms Ho said that most of the time, couples would ask for a sperm donor with the same blood group as the father or mother. “Some would also want a donor of a certain calibre, such as someone with tertiary education. The sperm bank would try to match the requests as closely as possible.” However, the ethnicity of the sperm donor and the husband have to match. This means an Asian man cannot ask for sperm from a Caucasian donor.

There are also two types of donors that couples can choose from when they turn to foreign banks ? open or closed donor. For an open donor, the child conceived of the sperm can, at the age of 18, look for the biological father. A closed donor waives that possibility. Singapore’s sperm banks allow only closed donors. All sperm donors from both foreign and local sperm banks do not have parental rights over children successfully born from their donations. 

How egg donations are collected 

EGG donations are much more difficult to collect compared to sperm. This is because the procedure to retrieve eggs from a woman requires more commitment and causes her physical discomfort. Couples need eggs, or oocytes, if the woman is unable to produce her own or good quality ones. Women who want to donate their eggs have to be healthy with no infectious or hereditary diseases, and be between 18 and 35 years old.

After initial tests to qualify them as donors, they must take medication and get injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs. An ultrasound probe is inserted through the vagina to retrieve the eggs which are ready for extraction. The procedure requires a sedative. Between 2005 and 2010, six women donated their eggs to the Singapore General Hospital’s Centre for Assisted Reproduction.

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