Sourcing your sperm

YOU MAY have a FRIEND or a RELATIVE of your partner who may be willing to donate sperm to you or enter into a co-parenting relationship. If your known donor is gay, then check with your chosen fertility clinic about their specific guidelines on gay sperm donors.

There are certainly advantages to using a known donor. Your child will have the opportunity to know their donor and there won’t be any mystery or stress for the child around who their biological father is. But there are also disadvantages: the donor may decide he doesn’t want any contact with your child, or he may want more contact than you initially agreed upon.

Before you start trying to get pregnant with a known donor, you should read the Chapter on “Known Donor Rights” so you know the legal parameters around when using a known donor. In recent cases, the Family Court has considered known donors as having legal parent status, or some parental rights or interests in the child, particularly if you are a single lesbian.

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s ethical guidelines on assisted reproductive technology states that clinics should not accept donations from those who are at an increased risk of transmittable diseases, i.e. gay men.[i] As gay men are at an increased risk of HIV, some clinics may not accept their sperm, or may require more extensive testing procedures (i.e. sperm must be stored for a minimum period of 6 months before being used).

Donor Websites

If you don’t have the option of using a donor that you already know, then there are many websites and magazines based in Australia from which you can source sperm. Some examples of Australian websites are:

 

There are also international websites:

 

Facebook

Sperm Donation Australia is a closed Facebook group that connects women and donors in Australia:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/spermdonationaustralia/

Magazines

There are a number of gay and lesbian magazines in Australia such as:

 

  • Lesbians On The Loose (LOTL)

  • Sydney Star Observer

  • SX News

  • Cherrie

  • DNA Magazine

 

These magazines normally have ads seeking sperm donors, men who want to donate sperm to lesbians, and gay men seeking surrogates and co-parenting relationships with single lesbians or lesbian couples.

Apps

 

There are now also a number of Apps available for prospective parents to find egg donors, sperm donors, co-parents and surrogates such as:

 

  • Just a Baby

  • Co-Parent Match App

  • London Sperm Bank Donors

  • DonR App (still in development)

Using an unknown donor

If you want to use an unknown donor, you will have to conceive at a fertility clinic. There are clinics all around Australia who have access to sperm from unknown donors.

Most fertility clinics in Australia import their sperm from overseas. This seems to be because there is a mass shortage of sperm donated in Australia available for use by lesbian couples. This may be because sperm donors in Australia are not financially compensated for donating, plus donors may specify whether their sperm goes to heterosexual couples, single women, or lesbians.

 

The fact that this option even exists for donors is evidence that Australian law in yet another instance is still not friendly or equal toward lesbians wanting to have children.

 

Fertility clinics

There are many fertility clinics in Australia that provide access to donor sperm including:

 

  • Fertility First

  • IVF Australia

  • Rainbow Fertility

  • Genea

  • City Fertility Centre

  • Monash IVF

  • Fertility East

  • City Fertility

  • Melbourne IVF

 

In April 2016, a dedicated fertility and IVF service catering exclusively to the LGBTI community, “Rainbow Fertility,” opened its doors in four states: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia. Rainbow Fertility offers lesbians treatment options including donor insemination, partner IVF, ICSI donor egg and sperm programs, fertility preservation (egg and sperm freezing), and surrogacy services.

You may want to ask people you know who conceived through a fertility clinic for a recommendation, whether they were happy with the service, and what their experience was like. 

To familiarise yourself with the process, you can access the sperm banks that the fertility clinics use online to see what available donors each has. Most clinics though will give you their own list of around 20 donors (rotating monthly) to select from.

Sperm banks

For many lesbians, the idea of creating a child using sperm from a sperm bank donor can seem bizarre. Certainly, knowing a donor gives you more information than what you will have access to with a donor you find through a bank. But going this route has advantages. It certainly simplifies things and provides you with certainty regarding donor parental rights (i.e. he has none).

There are also ways to make it less anonymous. One positive aspect of Australian law is that only men who agree to, and are amenable to, contact with the children can donate sperm. Parents interested in connecting can write to the sperm bank which then contacts the donor and puts them in touch. This is something may interest some lesbians.

There is also a donor sibling registry for parents who have had kids using the same donor sperm. I know one case in which several families found one another and have now become active parts of each other’s lives, with their own Facebook page, attending barbeques and birthday parties together, and other ways of connecting.

It can also present a risk, since you don’t know anything about these families in advance, other than sharing the same donor, but you can certainly take steps to create healthy boundaries and protect yourself and your children.

The largest and most popular sperm banks used in Australia are:

 

 

The above sperm banks are located outside of Australia. Unfortunately, you can’t access sperm directly from these sperm banks (unless you are travelling overseas for treatment). In Australia, fertility clinics are required to have agreements with overseas sperm banks to import the sperm. This is due to the legislative requirements around the storage and treatment of donor sperm. For example, in Victoria, the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 prohibits taking donated gametes (including sperm) or embryos produced from donated gametes, into or outside of Victoria without the written approval of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Authority (VARTA).

Donor sperm can be expensive to buy. Most clinics charge around $1,000 per vial of sperm.

 

Donor screening and profiles

A lot of clinics in Australia import their sperm through Xytex (www.xytex.com) from the United States. Lesbians using Xytex donors are generally provided with extensive information on their donor including:

  • Three generations of medical history

  • Baby, teenage, and adult photos

  • An essay the donor writes about his life

  • Social information about the donor and his family members

  • Personality testing

  • Audio interviews with the donor so you can hear his voice

  • The donor's first name, in some cases.

 

Most fertility clinics will also offer health screening and genetic testing on their donors. Xytex, for example, screens donors for the following:

 

  • Physical examination for evidence of sexually transmitted disease

  • Complete blood count

  • Blood typing

  • HIV 1/2 + O antibody testing

  • HIV/HCV/HBV NAT

  • Hepatitis B surface antigen

  • Hepatitis B core antibody testing

  • Hepatitis C antibody testing

  • Cytomegalovirus antibody testing (total). If total is positive, then IgG & IgM are tested

  • Syphilis serology (RPR and TP-PA)

  • HTLV I & II antibody screening

  • Full genital culture which includes testing for gonorrhoea

  • Urine PCR testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

 

Since 2012, Xytex also test donors for the following conditions:

 

  • Bloom syndrome

  • Canavan disease

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Familial dysautonomia

  • Familial hyperinsulinism (ABCC8-related)

  • Fanconi anaemia (Group C)

  • Gaucher disease

  • Glycogen storage disease (Type Ia)

  • Hemoglobinopathies (sickle cell disease and major thalassemias)

  • Joubert syndrome 2

  • Maple syrup urine disease (Types IA, IB, and 3)

  • Mucolipidosis (Type IV)

  • Nemaline myopathy NEB-related)

  • Niemann-Pick disease (Types A and B)

  • Spinal muscular atrophy (SMN1-related)

  • Tay-Sachs disease

  • Usher syndrome (Types IF and III)

  • Walker-Warburg syndrome (FKTN-related).

 

Some clinics have only limited information on their donors such as race, hair and eye colour and occupation (and no photos). For myself, I wanted to know what the donor looked like, his occupation, and his interests. Some people may not be bothered by their donor’s looks, but I thought this was quite important, given the donor would have no contact with my child. 

How much information you need to know is a very personal choice; make sure to think it through and talk with your partner, if you have one, and any lesbian friends who’ve been through it. Once you decide how much you want to know about your donor, you then can choose a fertility clinic.

When you are ready to proceed with your insemination through your chosen fertility clinic, you will be given a list of potential donors to choose from. You are normally asked to choose your top three donors on the list. These donor lists will most likely change each month, however, as the donors reach their donor limits on women and families.

How many women can use the same donor?

There are many reasons for legally limiting the number of pregnancies by the same donor.

Back in 2011, when there were no such limits in the United States and Canada, a Toronto man conceived with donor sperm discovered he had 1,000 siblings. Fertility specialists noted that inadvertent dating of half-siblings is happening and presents a risk for birth defects along with potential emotional trauma if the partners find out their link. It could also increase the number of genetic problems that could stem from one donor, especially if he isn’t aware of the issue.[i]

Thankfully, each state and territory in Australia has limitations on how many women can use the same donor.

On 16 March 2016, the Assisted Reproductive Technology Amendment Bill 2016 (NSW) passed the Lower House in NSW. Amongst the amendments, the Bill redefined the 5-woman limit to a 5-family limit for access to sperm from a single donor in order to remove the impact on lesbian families.[ii]

Previously, both women in a lesbian relationship were counted as separate entities in regards to access donor sperm. This meant you and your partner would be counted as two women. But with the introduction of the new legislation, lesbian couples will now be counted as one family unit in the circumstance where you and your partner want to use the same donor.

Currently, fertility clinics are responsible for maintaining donor records as there is no central registry for records. The Assisted Reproductive Technology Amendment Bill 2016 aims to allow people conceived in NSW via donor eggs or sperm to receive information about their donor, but not necessarily their donors’ names.[iii] The Amendment Bill will also allow fertility clinics to manage records of children conceived prior to 2010.[iv]

Some states such as Victoria already have a centralised database of donor information. 

Here is a list of how many women can use the same donor in other states:

  • NSW:   5 families[v]

  • SA:      10 women[vi]

  • VIC:     10 women[vii]

  • WA:     10 families[viii]

The ACT, NT, QLD, and TAS have no legislation dictating how many donors can be used, but they are still guided by national ethics guidelines[ix] and each clinic has its own regulations. These limits include any current or former partner of the donor. There is generally no limit on how many children per family can be born from a donor, but this can vary from state to state, so you should check with your fertility clinic.

Normally these regulations only apply when using an unknown donor from a clinic, but the law still applies with a known donor, even though there is no law saying a man can’t have 30 children by having sexual intercourse with 30 different women.

Because of tighter regulations around sperm donors and the rights of a child to know their biological heritage, most states in Australia will only allow you to use a sperm donor who has consented to be contacted when the child turns 18. Again, you should check with your fertility clinic in your state for more precise information.

If your partner becomes pregnant with a donor and you want to use the same sperm to become pregnant at a later point, then you may want to consider having a round of IVF to have embryos frozen (which will be classed as a pregnancy). This way, you are assured you can use the same donor even if the donor reaches the limit before you want to become pregnant.

You may also want to think about purchasing more vials of sperm to keep if you want to have more children, as the clinic may run out of that donor’s supply. If you store sperm at a fertility clinic, you will be liable for storage fees of around $150 for six months, but this is better than deciding you want to have another child and having no sperm left with which to do it!

 

SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS

 

  1. Explore the many facets of “how” to grow your family since there are lots of ways to do it.

  2. Read up on current laws regarding donor sperm from a bank and limits on numbers of families from one donor; this could influence your family planning.

  3. Speak with your chosen fertility clinic about whether they have specific rules and guidelines around their use of donor sperm.

  4. Be aware of the laws also in place regarding known donor parental rights.

 

Footnotes

[i] Blackwell T « Limit pregnancies by same sperm donor: fertility experts», National Post (8 September 2011), viewed 4 October 2016, http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/limit-pregnancies-by-same-sperm-donor-fertility-experts

[ii] Australian Legal Information Institute: Explanatory note (2016), viewed 4 October 2016, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/bill/artab2016457/

[iii] Australian Legal Information Institute: Explanatory note (2016), viewed 4 October 2016, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/bill/artab2016457/

[iv] Australian Legal Information Institute: Explanatory note (2016), viewed 4 October 2016, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/bill/artab2016457/

[v] Assisted Reproductive Technology Amendment Bill 2016 (NSW)

[vi] Reg 8(2)(a) of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Regulations 2010 (SA); Australian Government: National Health and Medical Research Council, Ethical guidelines on the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in clinical practice and research (2007),  viewed 4 October 2016,  http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/e78syn.htm

[vii] s 29 Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 (Vic) (No 76 of 2008)

[viii]  Human Reproductive Technology Act 1991 (WA)

[ix] Australian Government: National Health and Medical Research Council, Ethical guidelines on the use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in clinical practice and research (2007),  viewed 4 October 2016, https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/e78.

Note to readers: This information is intended as a guide to the law and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained here is as up to date and accurate as possible, the law is complex and constantly changing (particularly relating to same-sex parenting) and readers are advised to seek legal advice in relation to their situation.

If you need legal advice, please contact Nicole Evans from Nicole Evans Lawyers at nevans@nelawyers.com.au.

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