If you’ve ever thought about helping someone grow their family through sperm donation, now might be the time to take the next step as Australia is experiencing a shortage in the supply of sperm donors.
In Victoria, the number of men donating sperm has decreased by 23% over the last five years. Last year, the number of men donating sperm was 21% lower than the year before.
Becoming a sperm donor needs serious consideration but doing so can make an invaluable impact on the lives of others.
“I would encourage anyone thinking about donating to find out what’s involved,” VARTA CEO Louise Johnson says. “From our work in connecting donors with families, it can be really rewarding.”
The rules around sperm donation vary amongst different states and territories as there is no federal legislation covering the treatment, so it’s important to check the fine print in the area you might be donating.
However, we’ve put together a general guide that answers some of the most common questions about sperm donation to help you determine if it’s the right move for you.
Why do people use sperm donors?
There are various reasons why people use donor sperm to start a family.
- Heterosexual couples dealing with male factor infertility.
- Same-sex couples wanting to have a child.
- Single women starting a family.
Johnson says the biggest increase in demand has come from single women choosing to have babies without a male partner and women in same-sex relationships.
“Our data shows that hundreds of women fall into those categories every year.”
Who can become a sperm donor?
If you’re a healthy man aged between 21 and 45, you may be eligible to become a sperm donor in Australia. You can either be a de-identified sperm donor or an identified sperm donor. De-identified sperm donation is when your identity isn’t shared with the recipient at the time of treatment, while identified donation is when you’re known to the recipient and usually have an existing relationship.
You’ll need to provide a family medical history and undergo a medical and psychological evaluation to determine your eligibility. You’ll also provide a donor profile, which may include appearance, personality traits, education, a message to the person conceived and your openness to contact. You won’t be able to donate if you have a genetic condition or disease that could be passed on to any potential children.
Potential donors (and their partner or family if you have one) will undergo extensive counselling to consider all implications of donating. Some of the things to think about include:
- How you might feel towards the offspring you help create
- The genetic connection between your offspring and other members of your family
- That the recipients of your donation may have different backgrounds, beliefs and values to your own
- If you’re donating to someone you know, will you have contact with the child and what will your role be in their life.
Once these steps are successfully completed, you’ll provide a sperm sample to test, produced in a private room at the clinic. If your sperm quality is high enough, you’ll provide several more samples, which are then frozen and quarantined for further health screening.
Can you get paid for sperm donation in Australia?
No, you can’t be paid to donate sperm in Australia. In Australia it’s illegal to be paid for any human tissue — this includes sperm, eggs or embryos. However, you can be reimbursed for reasonable and verifiable out-of-pocket costs you might incur in the process, which includes things like medical expenses, parking, and travel.
Can you donate sperm in Australia anonymously?
No, you can’t donate sperm anonymously in Australia.
Recipients and donor-conceived children will know your non-identifying information provided during the donation process, which includes your medical and family history, your profile, as well as the number of other families and children conceived by your donation.
Once the donor-conceived child turns 18, they will be able to access your identifying information if they choose too, including your name, date of birth, and address. Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia have central sperm donor registries to keep this information. In other states and territories fertility clinics are responsible for keeping the details of donors.
Sperm donors previously had the choice to remain anonymous, but many donor-conceived children found the lack of information about their biological background distressing.
Johnson notes that a lack of anonymity isn’t off-putting to donors.
“I think one of the myths is that being an identified donor puts people off,” Johnson says. “The sort of men coming forward to be a sperm donor are really thoughtful and they know what it means to want to have a family and their intentions are really positive in that regard.”
Sperm donors can choose to be informed about the results of their donation, including the number, gender and year of birth of any children born, but they’re only entitled to non-identifying information. You can request further information, but consent of donor conceived adult, or from the parent if the child is younger than 18 years.
What are your legal rights as a donor?
A sperm donor who donates through a fertility or IVF clinic is not a legal parent of the donor-conceived child and has no legal rights or financial obligations to the child. The child’s birth certificate will record the recipient parent(s). As a donor you can specify the number of women that receive your donation or withdraw your consent to donate at any time.
Donating outside of the clinic system does not legally exclude donors from parental rights or responsibilities. This is a complex area of law — which is reflected in recent high-profile court cases — so you should always get your own legal advice.
Can you donate sperm informally?
There is a growing trend of informal sperm donations, often sought through unregulated websites and online forums. Some sperm donors also donate to people they know personally, which can also be done through fertility clinics.
“If you look at some of the online forums, there are Facebook groups with over 9000 members so there are a lot of men out there who appear to donate,” Johnson says.
But informal arrangements can come with a range of issues.
“I think it’s important for them to know that it’s a lot safer for them, and the recipients of their donation, to go through a clinic rather than informally,” Johnson says.
Sperm donation through a fertility clinic involves thorough infection and genetic screening. It also comes with more certainty around legal rights.
“The recipients and the donors aren’t protected legally through informal donation,” Johnson says. “Their status as a donor is muddy, they could end up being asked to take on parental responsibilities and take on the cost of raising a child if they are an informal donor.”
How many times can you donate sperm?
In formal settings there are limits to how many families may use a donation from a single donor and these differ amongst states and territories, ranging from five to 10. Check in with a local fertility clinic for information specific to your state or territory.
You’ll also find more helpful resources about sperm donation in Victoria, on the VARTA site.