Some couples are faced with the fact that either the man’s sperm is inadequate to fertilize an egg, or the woman’s eggs are unsuccessful in the ability to produce a viable pregnancy. When this arises, there is still hope.
Donor eggs and donor sperm make it possible for patients in this situation to still achieve pregnancy.
The PCRM team is happy to provide all levels of fertility services to heterosexual, same-sex and trans* couples, or those who do not have an accompanying partner. Simply stated we believe that family is not defined by the gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity of the parents.
Whether you have made the decision to proceed with treatment or just exploring your options, we encourage you to schedule a consultation. If you decide to pursue a path towards starting your family with us, you will find that we offer a complete range of third party reproductive technologies, including donor oocyte and sperm services. Please review the logistics of utilizing donor sperm at PCRM and the associated legal issues.
Donor sperm is commonly used by same-sex female couples, trans* couples and single women, and is occasionally required by heterosexual couples where there is a severe sperm factor or cases where there is a risk of transmitting a genetic disease from the male partner. To help you understand the process of assisted conception using donor sperm in Canada please review the following.
Preparing for the process
Prior to starting any treatment using donor sperm at PCRM, medical testing is required to ensure there are no undetected physical or hormonal barriers to conception. These tests consist of hormonal and obstetrical blood tests, as well as screening tests for Hepatitis B and C, HIV, and syphilis. As well, it is strongly recommended that an evaluation of your Fallopian tubes through a specialized X-ray (hysterosalpingogram or HSG) be performed before beginning any treatment. This test ensures your Fallopian tubes are not blocked, as this would interfere with conception. 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. Based on the recommendation of your PCRM physician, there may be additional testing required. You are also required by law to meet with a counselor with an expertise in reproductive health prior to embarking on treatments using donor sperm. (see below).
Considerations regarding the use of 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. As per the Human Reproduction Act (2004), in Canada, whenever third party reproduction is used in a clinical setting, counselling by a mental health professional with an expertise in reproductive medicine is required. 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 law. Counselling will likely help 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).
Acquiring 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 wish to use donor sperm from someone you know, the known donor would need to travel to Toronto to participate in Repromed’s Known Donor Program, which includes donor screening and sperm testing. Samples are quarantined for 6 months to assure its quality and safety. After that process is successfully completed, sperm can be released to PCRM for your use, as per the process noted below. For more information, click here: http://www.repromed.ca/known_sperm_donor
Securing Donor Sperm
The use of unknown donor sperm is complicated in Canada. As the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2004) prohibits the sale of reproductive material (gametes, sperm and eggs) it is most commonly obtained through banks in the United States and Europe with the assistance of brokers.
PCRM is neither an exporter nor a processor of donor semen – PCRM is a distributor of donor semen. This means that you will need to select the donor sperm from one of the sperm brokers below:
Donor Sperm Bank Phone Numbers & Websites
Outreach Health Services: 1-866-785-4709 www.creatingcanadianfamilies.ca
Repromed Ltd: 1-877-249-4282 www.repromed.ca/sperm_bank_canada.html
Can-Am Cryo: 1-888-245-3471 www.canamcryo.com
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 completed, 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 counseling, 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) $262.50
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. Infectious specimens ARE NOT used for donor sperm.
Treatment cannot be initiated prior to the arrival of the donor semen samples. The samples must arrive prior to the start of the menstrual period, to ensure that treatment is not compromised. If you have any further questions, you may ask your physician, or one of the nurses at PCRM.
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.
Why do patients use donor sperm?
Donor sperm is often used for:
- Male factor infertility when intrauterine insemination is not appropriate, and ICSI is not an option
- Single women
- Same-sex couples
- Couples where the husband is a carrier of a genetic disease, and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is not possible or desired.
The physicians, nurses, counselors, and laboratory team at PCRM are available to discuss the option of donor insemination for patients who are interested in pursuing this option. A counselling session is required prior to embarking on treatment with donor sperm.
Can PCRM freeze sperm for donation to someone who isn’t the man’s partner?
No. PCRM is not a licensed donor sperm bank, and as such can only freeze sperm from men who intend to use it to achieve pregnancies in the future with their partner.
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 cryopreservation 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 ART 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. At PCRM, we use CBS High Security Straws, a cryopreservation system that minimizes any risk of sample cross-contamination in the storage tank. These straws have a separate compartment so that the sample’s identification and sample can be sealed inside the straw. The straws are heat sealed at both ends, and then cooled in controlled-rate freezers. Once the samples have cooled to -150°C, they are transferred into a storage compartment in a liquid nitrogen storage tank, where they are stored at -196°C until needed.
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.