A little background about Donor Sperm
Donor sperm has been around since well before IVF started. It was a really big thing in the 1950s and 1960s for a man to be infertile and so doctors offered women insemination through fresh donor samples. It was so taboo, that women were told not to tell their husbands, to go home and have sex and not tell a soul!
Donor sperm was used when the IVF program started in the 1970s using fresh samples. In the 1970s donors gave sperm in the understanding their donation was completely anonymous. The early donor consent paperwork included a check box stating ‘I agree to be completely anonymous, that I will never be contacted by the recipient and that I will never contact the recipient.”
Freezing of sperm started in 1978, which revolutionised the IVF industry as sperm was able to last for as many years as required (but legislation capped that time at 10 years with a renewal of another 10 years) as opposed to fresh samples only lasting a couple of hours. With this advancement, sperm samples were then coded for storage with limited information. At this time, donor recipients had no choice about the donor sperm they were receiving; the scientists in the lab would choose a sample that best matched the characteristics of the family undergoing treatment.
In 1984 legislation was passed in Victoria that gave rights to donor conceived people to access information about their donors. This legislation came into effect in 1988 and allowed donor conceived children access to identifying and non-identifying information about the donor which resulted in the creation of the Central Register, established and administered by the Infertility Treatment Authority (ITA).
The legislation was revised in 1995 (enacted in 1998) to enable infertile single women to use donor sperm. Prior to this, only women in heterosexual relationships were allowed to have access to donor sperm.
Further legislation changes in 2010 enabled fertile single women and same sex couples access to donor sperm for creating their families. Same Sex couples now make up approximately 70% of donor recipients, the remaining 30% consists 20% single women, and 10% male factor infertility.
In June 2015, the latest legislation change came into effect – a retrospective change that enables all donor conceived children prior to 1998 the right to access the identifying information about the donor.
What is the sperm donor coordinators role in IVF
The primary role is to manage the donor program in accordance with legislation. This includes liaising with donors and donor recipients, maintaining donor profile listings, consents, time limits, family limits, coordinating donor and recipient treatment and undertaking the significant paperwork required to ensure all aspects are managed and recorded accurately.
The legislation is quite prescriptive; in Victoria, a single donor is only able to create 10 families in the world, were as in Queensland the law refers to 10 families in Australia only, irrespective of the remainder of the world.
What usually happens when you get a new donor
There are two types of donors – “clinic recruited donors” and “known donors”. Clinic recruited donors are available for use by numerous recipients. A clinic recruited donor is allowed a total of 10 genetic families within Australia, including their own. Known donors are known to the recipient and are available only for their exclusive use.
It’s really important to be open and clear about the process to be a donor as it can take up to a year or more before the sperm can be released for use by recipients and falls under a number of legislation and regulations, including:
- Reproductive Treatment Accreditation Committee (RTAC) Code of Practice
- National Health & Medical Research Committee (NHMRC) Ethical Guidelines on the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in Clinical Practice and Research, September 2004
- Victorian Human Tissue Act 1982
Donors must be aged between 21-45 years and be prepared to consent to the release of identifying information to any conceived children. Donor treatment can only be facilitated under circumstances where the child can know their genetic parents. In addition, they need to consent to release non-identifying medical information to the recipient to enable informed consent.
The process involves providing an initial semen sample which undergoes a test freeze; this is to see that the sperm is within ‘normal’ parameters and able to survive the freeze/thaw process. A medical examination, and two counselling sessions are also required, where the legal and ethical implications of the donation are discussed. The donor is also asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire on his history including lifestyle, education, medical, ethnicity and other characteristics including height, weight, eye colour, personality, attitude as well as information about the medical history of his parents.
Once he has been accepted, the donor is then required to provide 10 donations and a blood sample to check that he is not a carrier of some common genetic diseases and that his infectious screening tests are negative. The sperm is then held in quarantine for 6 months pending more blood test results prior to its release for use.
It’s important to remember that the donors are considered the owners of gametes in the eyes of the law; so this means that the donor has a say in what happens to the donation.
What usually happens when you get a new donor recipient
Donor recipients could be women with an infertile partner, single women or women in a same sex relationship. To be eligible for donor sperm; the recipient(s) must be registered with Monash IVF and have a current police check and child protection order check (these are mandatory in Victoria).
Once the checks have been received (which can take up to 10 weeks), recipients then undertake two counselling sessions; this is done with a Monash IVF counsellor and discusses the legal and ethical implications of the donation. At counselling the recipient will receive a list of available donors for their specific treatment type.
Recipients can then ask for a donor’s profile; which provides more information about the donor, including his medical history. The list of available donors constantly changes; this can be due to donors reaching the ten family limit; a withdrawal of consent or as new donors come out of quarantine.
What happens when a donor conceived baby is born
When a donor conceived baby is born, we notify Births, Deaths and Marriages of the donor’s information as prescribed by legislation. There is provision on the birth certificate to indicate the child is donor conceived. We also take the opportunity of discussing with the recipient family if they would like to reserve the same donor sperm for future siblings, and where supply permits, they can store 3 straws for their future use.
What is the most satisfying part of being a donor coordinator
Building rapport with our donors; it can be a long process, so it’s important that you can talk frankly and discuss certain situations openly.
It’s also great being the conduit that enables women and couples to realise their dream of having a family. The baby photos are adorable!
You need to understand the legislation, be highly organised, be able to multitask and have excellent attention to detail.
Most importantly, you need to be empathetic and open when communicating with donors and recipients. They need to know that you will help them to the best of your ability.