Sperm samples at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center's sperm bank
Assaf Harofeh Medical Center's sperm bank. A court has allowed the parents of a dead man to chose a woman to be impregnated by his sperm, which is stored in a similar facility. Photo by Moti Milrod
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Using sperm from foreign donors to perform in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination makes a successful pregnancy more likely than using local sperm donations, a new study shows.

The research was conducted at Assaf Harofeh Hospital by a team led by Prof. Arieh Raziel, who directs the hospital's sperm bank. The researchers checked the data of 11,052 fertility treatments that used sperm from Israeli donors, and compared them to 2,834 treatments that used sperm imported from the United States between 2000 and 2010. The results of the treatments were obtained by a telephone survey among Israeli hospitals that perform these fertility procedures.

The study found that using a foreign sperm donation for IVF was more likely to lead to a successful pregnancy: 7.9 percent of those undergoing treatment with foreign sperm got pregnant compared to 4.1 percent of those treated with Israeli sperm.

Similar data was obtained for artificial insemination, which does not require the removal of ova from the woman undergoing treatment. There, 9.1 percent of those using foreign sperm became pregnant, compared to 6.4 percent of those using Israeli sperm.

The findings were presented at a recent conference of the Israeli Fertility Association.

The researchers have yet to ascertain the reason for these findings.

"Our impression from laboratory tests is that the quality of imported and domestic sperm samples is similar," said Raziel. "We assume that the difference must be related to the different populations of patients, since those requesting foreign sperm are generally younger."

There is a particularly high request rate for foreign sperm from ultra-Orthodox patients, since the assumption is that the donors are non-Jews. Using such sperm removes the concern about siblings later marrying each other that some fear if Israeli sperm is used.

Since Haredi couples marry early and are likely to detect fertility problems sooner, such women would indeed be younger than the average patient.

Sperm donations are not included in the health basket of services, meaning that those who don't have supplementary or private insurance must pay for it themselves. A dose of imported sperm cost around five times as much as local sperm, which today costs NIS 600.

Raziel's study detected a rising demand for sperm donations over the past decade, and a significantly higher demand for foreign sperm. At Assaf Harofeh, one of only three clinics (and the only public hospital ) offering the option of foreign sperm for IVF, demand for local sperm was up 2.5 times, resulting in 1,700 procedures in 2010, while demand for foreign sperm was up sevenfold, resulting in 700 procedures in 2010.

Assaf Harofeh imports its sperm from sperm banks in Virginia, California and Massachusetts. The private sperm back at Assuta Medical Center in Rishon Letzion gets sperm from Denmark and California, while the newest private sperm bank, Superm, gets sperm from Denmark and Spain.