Donor Insemination: Sperm Banks Offer Many Choices by Brent Hazelrigg

Donor Insemination: Sperm Banks Offer Many Choices 
by Brent Hazelrigg

“A couple has been trying to conceive a pregnancy for a longtime. Their doctor recommends testing on both the woman and the man. A semen analysis reveals a low sperm count. Treatment options include using donor sperm with intrauterine insemination (IUI).”

“A woman has yet to find Mr. Right and feels the biological clock ticking. One choice is to consider having a child on her own, using donor sperm.”

Couples and individuals facing reproductive choices have exciting options available to them today. Just a few decades ago, if a patient needed donor sperm their physician made all the choices for them and had little information to share about the donor. Now the world of selecting a donor has been revolutionized. Couples can choose a donor based on not only physical and medical attributes, but audio interviews, personality profiles, essays, advanced degrees, and childhood photos. Someone would know more about the donor they select then they do about their own spouse.

What to expect from a Sperm Bank

  • Extensive medical screening of the donors should be standard. Only three percent of the donors who apply are actually accepted into the program at the Fairfax Cryobank. This makes this sperm bank three times harder to get into than Harvard. Prospective donors must pass rigorous standards for the semen analysis, family history, medical history, infectious disease testing, and genetic testing and evaluation. Not all sperm banks test to the same level—compare which tests are done by each sperm bank. Couples have told us that the most important factor in making a selection of which sperm bank to use is the level of testing performed on the donor. Infectious disease testing is the most critical to these couples. How a test is done can be different between sperm banks, as well. For example a test which detects infectious agents by PCR (by finding the genetic copy of the virus in the cells) is the most accurate type of detection. This is cutting edge technology and should be what you look for in donor testing.
  • All specimens must be quarantined to allow adequate testing for HIV and other infectious agents.
  • A guarantee on specimen quality should be provided. When the sample arrives and is thawed by the doctor’s office, a minimum standard is assured.
  • There should be a large selection of donors with wide variability of characteristics and traits. Physical traits, educational backgrounds including doctorate degrees, ethnic background, profession, and hobbies are examples of information available on donors. On line search engine registries help the prospective patient find a match. You can narrow down your search by using the most important selection criteria for you. On line access to information makes the process easy for individuals to use in the privacy of their own home.
  • Information beyond the basics. Personality profiles, audio interviews (Sample audio clip MP3 format) essays written by the donors themselves, childhood photos and extensive medical and personal profiles provide even more details.
  • Exceptional customer service to help with the final selection. There should be someone to answer your unique questions and help you through the process. Is there a person you want the donor to look like? (consider photo matching) Do you want to have more than one child with the same donor? Do you want to find a compatible donor to your personality type? (take the test yourself at and see who is compatible with you-it’s fun) You just want to talk about the process with someone who knows.

Once you’ve made a choice and are ready to move ahead—what next? 

You must have a physician working with you that feels comfortable accepting the frozen semen sample in his office, thawing and processing the sample as required and performing the intrauterine insemination (IUI). In an IUI, this specially prepared semen sample is gently placed in the uterus using a catheter carefully maneuvered through the cervix.

An IUI should be preformed at the optimal time for conception to occur, at ovulation. The exact time of ovulation can be predicted by certain hormonal changes that can be monitored by laboratory tests and/or home ovulation predictor kits. Additional ultrasound monitoring of the ovary can identify when to expect the egg(s) to rupture (ovulate) from the follicle(s). Women who plan to use IUI can potentially enhance the number of eggs expected at ovulation from the normal number of one up to three or four. Medications such as clomid are used for this purpose.

The likelihood that a pregnancy will result from one IUI cycle is usually about 15-20%. Even with fertile couples the chance of pregnancy in any one cycle is about the same. Yet factors such as age of the woman and other health issues can dramatically effect the chance of pregnancy. The likelihood of pregnancy with IUI for any one couple is best discussed with their own physician who knows their history the best.

Is donor insemination right for you? 

Only you can know for sure. Natural conception is not always able to provide children to those who very much want them. Hence, using technology to assist in the process becomes a consideration. IUI with donor sperm is one of those options. Feeling comfortable with your choice in sperm banks and ultimately the donor you have selected to become the biological father of your child is critically important. It can take time and some emotional reserves to make these important decisions. Only the couple or individuals themselves can make those choices.

Editor’s note: Brent Hazelrigg, M.S., is the Program Director/COO of Fairfax Cryobank. He holds Master of Science degree in reproductive biology, and has more than 15 years experience in sperm and embryo cryobiology.

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