Donor sperm is commonly used by same-sex female couples, trans* couples and single women, and is sometimes required by heterosexual couples where there is a severe sperm factor or when there is a risk of transmitting a genetic disease from the male partner. To help you understand the process of using donor sperm in Canada please review the following.
Preparing for the process
Prior to starting any treatment using donor sperm at PCRM, some medical testing is required to ensure there are no undetected physical or hormonal barriers to conception. These tests consist of hormone blood tests, as well as screening tests for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, and syphilis and checking for immunity to chickenpox and rubella. As well, it is strongly recommended that an evaluation of your Fallopian tubes through a specialized X-ray (hysterosalpingogram or HSG) be performed prior to treatment. This test ensures your Fallopian tubes are not blocked. Additionally, patients using donor sperm will require testing for cytomegalovirus (CMV). If you are CMV negative, you should select sperm from donors who are CMV negative or ask about a waiver. If you have previously had CMV, you can choose a CMV positive or negative donor.
You are required to meet with a counselor with an expertise in reproductive health prior to embarking on treatments using donor sperm. Using donor sperm to assist in creating your family can have an impact on future family dynamics, and will be a part of your child’s genetic reality, and personal identity to varying degrees. The counselling session is important to help those planning to use donor sperm think about and plan for these issues, as well as to satisfy the pre-treatment requirement. Counselling can help to clarify which source (known donor or unknown donor) and type of sperm (ID-release or anonymous) is the best fit for your family (see below).
Sourcing Donor Sperm
Once the decision to use donor sperm has been made, it needs to be sourced. Donor sperm for use at PCRM can be obtained in two ways: it can be obtained from a sperm bank (unknown donor), or it can be sourced from a friend or relative (known donor).
Obtaining sperm from an unknown donor via a sperm bank requires the choice between ID-Release or Anonymous Sperm. Most donor sperm used in Canada is imported from the United States and Europe from ID-release donors, meaning that at the time of sperm donation, the donor had consented to have information about himself released to his offspring once reaching the age of majority, should they so request. The specifics of what information is made available vary between banks. It is important to understand that ID-release donors can, at any time, rescind their consent to have information released, so choosing an ID-release donor is not an absolute guarantee of future access or contact. Anonymous donors, on the other hand, choose to withhold consent at the time of the donation to the future release of information; thus additional information is not, and will not be available for future access.
If you want to use donor sperm from someone you know, Health Canada regulations revised in February 2020 made this easier. You and your donor would meet with one of our third party reproduction coordinators to review the steps, which include infectious diseases screening, physical examination, counselling and sperm banking. The Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the sale of reproductive material (embryos, sperm and eggs) so any donation must be altruistic, with reimbursement only of receipt-able expenses.
Donor Sperm Bank Phone Numbers & Websites
Repromed Ltd: 1-877-249-4282
Can-Am Cryo: 1-888-245-3471
Once you are a confirmed client of PCRM and wish to proceed with a cycle, it is your responsibility to contact the sperm bank(s) above to start the process of selection and purchase of a donor sperm sample. Once this has been done, you must contact the clinic, and ask for the donor sperm nurse. When you call, you must provide the following information:
a. Your physician
b. The distributor and contact information from where you have ordered the donor sperm
c. The donor number and the number of vials you have ordered
Once this has been done, PCRM will coordinate the transfer of the donor sperm samples to PCRM.
Prior to transfer of donor sperm samples to our facility, you will be responsible for prepayment of the fees associated with counselling, nursing orientation, and transfer and storage of sperm samples. These fees are as follows:
- Donor sperm orientation (includes teaching and counselling session) $400
- Donor sperm handling fee (fee required for arranging transport of specimens) $100
- Annual storage fee (fee for annual storage of samples, or portion thereof) $420
- TOTAL $920.00
All donor semen used in Canada, by law, must undergo rigorous infectious disease screening for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and CMV.
To start your treatment cycle, your donor sperm samples must have arrived at the clinic and we ask that you contact us on the first day of the menstrual period. If your cycles are irregular or you do not have a period, please speak to your physician.
Making Families with Donor Sperm – Legal Implications
Provincial law defines legal parentage. The B.C. Family Law Act (2011) came fully into force on March 18, 2013, replacing the Family Relations Act. The legislation clarifies parental responsibilities and the division of assets if relationships break down, but most importantly for our patients, establishes a much needed framework for determining a child’s legal parents, including where assisted reproduction is utilized. The BC Family Law Act specifically addresses assisted reproduction in that if the intended parents are in an established relationship at the time of insemination, then they are considered the legal parents at birth, with no need for a legal contract, and no adoption necessary by the non-carrying parent. When surrogacy or a multi-parenting situation is planned, however, a legal contract IS required prior to the assisted reproduction process, so that the intention of parenthood is clear prior to conception.
For more information, please review this information from Barbara Findley, QC:
Legalities regarding parentage vary across jurisdictions. It is essential that out-of-province patients investigate the law in their own state/province and seek out relevant legal advice pertaining to their situation.
Here are some additional articles by PCRM doctors that you might find helpful:
- Huffington Post – Paying Sperm and Egg Donors will Help LGBTQ Couples Build Families
- Global TV News – Rule change makes it easer for women undergoing fertility treatment to access sperm from known donors
Frequently Asked Questions
Does freezing affect the sperm?
Some sperm in each sample will not survive the freeze/thaw process, but there is no evidence that freezing affects the genetic material of those that survive. Different samples respond differently to freezing and it is not possible to predict this from the fresh sample. The PCRM laboratory performs a “test thaw” on a small portion of each sample that is frozen to give your doctor an indication of how the sperm react to freezing. The length of time a sample is stored does not affect its chance of survival, so your doctor can use this information in the future, when developing your fertility treatment plan.
How are the frozen sperm stored?
The semen sample is diluted carefully with a cryoprotectant solution designed to protect the sperm during freezing. Once diluted, the sample is divided up and put into straws for freezing.
How secure is my frozen sperm sample?
To access the PCRM storage facility, one would need to pass through 4 locked doors, that are only accessible to specific PCRM medical and laboratory staff. Our facility also has an independent security system and a security guard for the building 24 hours a day. The storage tanks are filled with liquid nitrogen, and the levels are checked and recorded weekly. The holding time for these tanks is several weeks, meaning that if for some reason it was not possible to top up the liquid nitrogen, the samples could still stay frozen. Also, because we use liquid nitrogen, and not electricity, samples will remain safely frozen during power outages.