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Sperm Donors: Banking On Life And Money

Indian Express,
Swati Deshpande-Aguiar

HAVING abstained from sex for four days, the young man walks in. Fifteen minutes later he is out, knowing that he may, in the near future, sire a child or two. What's more, he doesn't harbour any thoughts of ever learning the child's identity.

A sleazy bordello? No, it's a sperm bank in Mumbai. And, constituting new breed of New Age donors are mostly medical students and young professionals between the age of 20 and 40. These are the 'genetically-sound' sperm donors of today who help an increasing number of Indian couples going in for artificial insemination.

Shammi --- 25, post-graduate and single --- has no qualms about being one. He says, "Others my age should also consider donating semen as it's for a good cause, I do it because I want to help infertile couples." He adds as an after thought, "It's not harmful and in any case it's better than wasting semen as many bachelors do by masturbating or visiting brothels."

A medical student, Mohan, in his twenties has been a regular donor for some time now and admits it "adds to his pocket money." There are many like him who are motivated more by the returns than any good cause.

Sperm banks are not very common in Mumbai. The few that exist mostly have about a couple of donors, whose efforts mainly help the in-patients of the gynaecologists who run them.

Two 'proper' facilities, however, are the Malpanis' seven-year-old bank, the first in the country and Gautam Allahabadia's state-of-art semen bank which started last year. It's not only infertile couples who benefit from sperm donations. Doctors say fertile couples too approach the banks especially in cases where the husband has lost sperm production due to treatment of malignant diseases or where spouses are separated for long periods.

Jayendra, 30, who is married and has a daughter was found to have Hotchkins' lymphoma (a type of leukaemia). He was advised to visit Malpani's clinic and deposit his semen for further use as chemotherpy might destroy his fertility. Unlike their Western counterparts, doctors here usually do not advise cancer patients to store their semen in advance. "It is like a back-up insurance policy if they do, like a dream come true," says Anirudh Malpani.

It could be for a young childless couple from South Mumbai. The husband at 25 suffers from cancer and his 22-year-old wife sees frozen semen samples as the only option. Then there are those who can benfit from banking their sperm --- for example, those in the merchant navy and people working in the Gulf who are away from home and spouse for long spans of time and are unable to induce pregnancy in the short duration when at home. "For them this facility offers an alternate option," says Malpani.

But doctors find it hard to get sperm donors, perhaps due to conservative attitudes and lack of awareness.

Allahabadia, an honorary gynaecologist and obstetrician at the Bombay Hospital, tries to get students at the Sion Hospital to do so as he lectures there. But apart from a few who oblige, there are not many takers. Those who donate semen do so to earn that extra money. A medical student gets as much as Rs 300 to Rs 500 per deposit while a clerk gets Rs 200.

Without exception all are embarrassed when contacted at their workplace or college. One says that when he walks into the hospital grounds, he hears the boys there snigger, "Who dekh aa gaya mangne". Allahabadia says 90 per cent of azoospermic couples opt for donor insemination first as many husbands feel that at least 50 per cent of the child is theirs. Adoption is the last recourse. With growing awareness about artificial insemination and the relatively low costs involved, doctors are contacted by more and more by infertile couples. They range from a truck driver and his wife to a top TV executive couple.

A donor usually has to be young with a high sperm count of over 60 to 80 million an ml of semen as 40 per cent of it gets lot when sorted. Cryo bank, India, clamed to be the first nationalised sperm bank, has around 1,500 samples form 140-old donors enlisted over the six years of its existence at three centres, says Arun Patil, who manages marketing centre in mumbai.

Donors, he continues, are carefully screened and comprise students primarily from engineering and medical colleges or those who have had four years of college education and are from 20 to 30 years in age. He says in Mumbai a donor's religious or regional identity is neither revealed nor asked by couples whereas, at a sperm bank in Hyderabad, only the semen of Brahmins is accepted.

Allahabadia says doctors in Mumbai continue to use fresh semen samples instead of frozen ones for insemination even though they carry the risk of HIV infection or the presence of Australian antigen.

He had eight regular donors and 200 samples from people as varied as students to medical representatives to bank clerks. The Malpanis say they share a good rapport with their donors. "At least one person comes for donation daily," says Anjali Malpani, adding. "A standard offer of Rs 4,000 for 10 samples is often refused by them as they do it only for a good cause.

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