The Health Ministry has yet to issue updated regulations governing the collection or use of sperm donations in Israel, even though the state comptroller called for such rules in 2007.
As a result, Israel's 15 sperm banks, two of them privately run, are operating in a regulatory fog that can present ethical problems and increases the very slight risk of two siblings later marrying each other, though no such case is known to have occurred in the decades that donor inseminations have been performed.
Two private sperm banks, Cryobank, in operation a little over a year, and Superm, launched a few months ago, were opened in response to an increasing demand for donor sperm that isn't being met by the 13 public sperm banks that operate in hospitals, only seven of which are really active. They are also setting their own criteria for sperm donors.
For example, Cryobank, which operates at the Assouta Medical Center in Rishon Lezion, only accepts sperm donations from army veterans, while the other private sperm bank, Superm in Tel Aviv, won't take sperm from men over 30.
"The criteria of army service is just another layer of donor screening, since the army has already evaluated them and declared them healthy," Assouta Medical Center explained. "There is nothing ideological about this."
Some 350 babies are born annually in Israel from donor sperm.
The current regulations governing sperm donations date back to 1992. The updated Health Ministry regulations, which have been drawn up but have yet to be issued, would govern what genetic tests should be performed on both the donors and the women applying to be inseminated and would codify the trustee role the sperm bank must play, should the father ever need to be identified by a state or Rabbinical court.
The new regulations would also restrict a given donor to making sperm donations at only one facility and would restrict the number of children that each donor could "father." American fertility experts recommend a limit of 25 children from any single donor in a population of 800,000 people.
The state comptroller, in his 2007 report, said his investigators had found four donors who had fathered more than 20 children each, and several donors who had made more than 100 sperm donations.
A program to build a national registry that would identify donors by a string of digits from their identity numbers, and thus prevent donations to different facilities, is being developed.
At the public sperm banks, women or couples seeking insemination may need to wait months for suitable sperm to become available, while at the private clinics there is almost no wait.
Moreover, both private clinics have signed agreements with foreign sperm banks to receive a steady supply of sperm samples from abroad. Many women or couples prefer using foreign sperm to lessen the possibility of future incestuous relationships. While foreign sperm is also available at the public clinics, there is a longer wait.
The private clinics also perform more screenings on the donors to reduce the chance of their passing on genetic diseases. Superm, for example, claims that it performs 42 tests on its donors for various genetic and infectious diseases.
At the hospital banks, donors are only given tests covered by the health basket, such as tests for Tay-Sachs and Fragile X Syndrome. The new regulations would expand the number of tests, in accordance with the ethnic origin of the sperm donor.
At all sperm banks, women or couples seeking insemination can choose their donor based on age, height, weight other physical features, educational achievement and IQ. Cryobank claims its donor profile goes into even more detail, including the donor's "interests, language fluency, his parents' countries of origin and astrological sign."
Sperm donations are not included in the health basket. A dose of local sperm costs between NIS 600 and NIS 1,000, with the price higher at the private sperm banks. A dose of imported sperm cost around $1,000.
Israeli donors, who are mostly students, get NIS 220 for every sperm donation. As of 2007, some 5,000 sperm donations were being made annually in Israel.
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