Mom, where do babies come from?

Today this dreaded question is no longer that easy to answer. Because what happens when the birds and the bees just can’t do it anymore? What happens when a couple is unable to conceive?

Having children one day is something young people tend to take for granted. Nobody thinks that anything can go wrong, so the need to think about fertility treatment isn’t very prominent.

Perdeby visited MedFem clinic in Bryanston to find out more.

According to the clinic’s statistics, approximately 20% of South African couples are unable to conceive. Senior embryologist at Medfem, Edolene Bosman says that fertility is getting worse and collecting usable sperm is becoming more difficult. She says, “Fewer donors are being accepted. Young people eat unhealthily and they don’t realise the influence it has on their fertility.” And since the clinic foots the bill for all the testing that needs to be done and they depend on the honesty of the donors, they often end up wasting money on sperm that cannot be used. There are various things that could make sperm unusable such as a history of mental illness or hereditary diseases in the donor’s family, infectious diseases including sexually transmitted diseases and an inadequate sperm count.

On the day, the donor will be shown to a private room and handed a small cup. Once he is done, he inserts the cup into a slot which will then deposit it straight into the lab. So the embarrassing face-to-face handing over is avoided. And then, because in South Africa the Human Tissue Act prohibits the selling of organs or tissue, the donor is paid a small honorarium. There is no fixed amount since it is meant to cover the donor’s expenses such as petrol and to compensate for the time he gives up. So it will be different for every donor.

Turns out Stifler, from American Pie, had it wrong. Sperm donation has to be more about helping couples who can’t conceive than making a quick buck.

Even more time and money gets invested in egg cell donation. Sister Krina van Mollendorf explains that egg cell donation is not nearly as simple as sperm donation. “Egg donation takes up to six visits to the clinic and includes expensive hormone treatments. Therefore once you have committed you have to go through with it.” The hormone treatment ensures that the donor releases more than the normal single egg to be harvested. The eggs are harvested while the donor is under anaesthetic but it is not an operation. The skin is not cut as the eggs are retrieved vaginally. The egg cell donor also receives an honorarium.

One of the big issues that comes up with sperm and egg cell donation is that donors have the right to indicate a few specifications about the couple that receives their sperm or egg cells. This means they can specify on grounds of race, religion, sexual preference and marital status.

Michelle Muyburgh, a third-year social work student, says “specifying would defeat the purpose of giving your egg cells – if it helps somebody, it helps somebody.” Although at the moment she doesn’t think she will donate egg cells, she might consider it in the future to help other people.

Pieter Smal, doing his first year in BMus, is willing to donate and he would choose to specify a Christian couple. “I’m Christian and I would like my offspring to be Christian too,” he says.

Ms Bosman explains the position that MedFem takes in this regard as having to respect the wishes of the donor. She says, “We have to try and meet everyone’s needs, this means we have to grant the wishes of the donor too.” It is also a way to get more people to feel comfortable with the idea of donating.

Another issue with sperm and egg cell donation appeared in an episode of the popular series Boston Legal. This was a case of boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl find out they are the products of the same donor father after winning a court case for the sperm bank to reveal the information. But in reality, what are the chances of something like this happening?

Ms Bosman says that there is a tiny possibility, but they limit each sperm donor to only five pregnancies. According to their statistics this will be sufficient to keep something like this from happening. Of course the clinic does keep records of each pregnancy and donor, so it would always be possible to find out, whilst still keeping the identity of the donor secret.

Then there is the whole ethical issue of sperm and egg cell donation and in vitro fertilisation (IVF). IVF is the process whereby the egg is fertilised outside of the womb. It is a method of fertility treatment.Nare Kearabiloe, a first-year financial mathematics student, represents one side of the issue as he feels that IVF is unethical because “it didn’t happen naturally, it is against nature.” Ms Bosman illustrates the other side of the issue, “People think it is a Godly issue, but infertility is also just a disease. [The reproductive system] gets affected just like the rest of the body.”

With so many issues left open to discussion, sperm and egg cell donation remains a topic that isn’t often thought about until you are the person who is ready to have children, but find yourself unable to. So, the question remains: should we leave it up to the birds and the bees?


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