Health Risks Posed by Free Online Sperm Donors

While the FDA has cracked down on online sperm donation, doctors at Colorado Reproductive Endocrinology in Denver want consumers to understand that free donor sperm may not be properly tested for disease and could expose hopeful parents to HIV, hepatitis, and other diseases

For men and women struggling with infertility and unable to get pregnant on their own, independent online websites offering free sperm donors may seem like a quick fix to start a family.

Some donors purport to be interested in helping infertile couples, single women, and lesbians start a family, but recipients have no way of knowing if the donor is a seed-spreading egomaniac, altruistic nice guy, or worst of all, part of a fly-by-night online scam.

“There have been several sites popping up on the Internet giving away free sperm,” Dr. Susan Trout, a fertility physician at Colorado Reproductive Endocrinology said. “The problem is that it isn’t always tested, as per FDA regulations, to make sure the donor doesn’t have HIV, hepatitis, gonorrhea, syphilis, or other diseases.”

While the Food and Drug Administration regulates the terms under which free sperm can be obtained, there has been no official legal crackdown on free sperm donors because technically, it’s not illegal. Additionally, while the FDA has established standards for the testing of sperm and the eligibility of donors, not all websites may be adhering to the law.

Dr. Betsy Cairo at CryoGam Colorado, a Loveland, Colorado based laboratory that offers sperm banking, donor sperm, and embryo and oocyte storage, wants patients to be educated on the risks.

“There was a situation in California where a man was selling sperm off the Internet and was shut down,” Cairo said. “Sperm is a transplantable tissue, regulated by the FDA, so women need to understand that they can be at risk for sexually transmitted infections.”

In 2005, the FDA established standards for sperm donation “to create a unified registration and listing system for establishments that manufacture human cells, tissues, and cellular and tissue-based products, and to establish donor-eligibility, current good tissue practice, and other procedures to prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases.”

Nevertheless, some donors are slipping through the cracks and may not be complying.

In addition to possibly not being screened for disease, some sperm donors on free sites may not even sign away their consensual rights to parenthood. The recipient of the sperm may not even know that they are at risk of a paternity lawsuit.

“I had a patient myself who almost fell victim to one of these guys,” Trout adds. “Luckily, she asked me about it first.”

Sperm donors who may have been rejected by credible sperm banks could instead choose to become donors on the so-called “grey market” because they did not pass the rigorous psychological and physical standards upheld by legitimate fertility clinics.

Because of this, consumers cannot be sure if they are getting safe sperm unless they deal with a reputable fertility practice.

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