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Fertile Ground

After class, sell sperm

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Masturbating can be a master stroke.

Masturbating can be a master stroke. With infertility clinics wooing young male students, the boys have just realised ejaculation and economics may not necessarily be mutually exclusive.

He is a major in sociology, swears by his Adorno, Barthes and Durkheim, and likes to ride his dad's old 350 CC bike. Away from the cafeteria of his Delhi university campus - where he likes to hold court on humanism - and in a quiet corner of an infertility clinic in south Delhi, he is also 'donor number 456'.

So when he freezes his sperm in a vial that's kept at minus 196°C and gets paid for it, he doesn't think he's doing it for a little extra pocket money. There's, after all, the greater common good to think of.

Whatever '456' thinks and however he justifies his weekly appointment at the fertility clinic, where he doesn't mind keeping up with a host of rules and regulations before he's allowed to ejaculate into a labelled cup, an increasing number of students are donating sperm for cash. It takes care of their coffee-date, cigarettes and that pair of Levis they have been eyeing for long.

"We prefer students coming in for (sperm) donations," says Dilip Patil, managing director of Mumbai-based sperm bank Cryos International India, a venture that's just into its third year. "In return, we pay them adequately for their generosity." Patil says students are encouraged because finding donors in India is not very easy. There has to be a plan. So when Cryos started out in India, it deliberately targeted the community. "Our company had put up a stall at the IITMumbai annual cultural fest. Everyone is aware that it is one of the premium colleges. We were hopeful that the students would be liberal and open to the idea of sperm-donation."

Patil adds that while many may want to sign up for the job because it pays - one sample fetches almost Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 - the donor should ideally also express a desire to help childless couples. "It should be an altruistic effort and not a money-making gimmick."

In India, where sperm banks are mushrooming at a frenetic pace, the donor community is hardly growing. Morals and ethics are the two stumbling blocks that doctors have to contend with. Senior IVF consultant and fertility specialist Sushma Sinha of Apollo hospital, New Delhi, says, "The student community is young and able, so naturally they are the best donors."

Not that it's as easy as it sounds. Would-be parents have preferences, and often these are very rigid. Soumya Kaushik (name changed), who is all excited to be a mother, was convinced her sperm donor had to fit a particular profile. Sipping from a coffee-mug that reads in running font, 'I love you mom', she says she spent weeks agonising about who her donor would be. "My main concern was that the person had to be healthy. Later, I found out from my doctor that he was a student and doing well in his studies. He was graduating from an engineering college. That he was tall and well-built was a bonus," she added chirpily.

Sperm banks, too, go through detailed checks before they agree on a sample. "Currently, we have about 160 donors registered with us, out of which 45 are ready-to-use samples," says Patil. "And all the listed donors have their physical attributes described in minute detail. From hair colour to complexion to even religion and food preferences - everything is painstakingly catalogued so that recipients with a single click of a button on our website can access the information about their donor and make an informed choice."

A description listed on Cryos' website reads: "He is one of our shy donors, with slightly curly hair. His mother tongue is Malayalam. He is very helpful and respectful, and seems like a nice person. A typical urban boy."

A profile like this can work wonders for a traditional Indian family looking at a suitable boy for their daughter. It works well for eager couples keen on 'making' babies. No wonder then that at Rs 5,000, his 0.5 ml of sperm is already listed as 'low stock' on the website, owing to the high demand.

But is becoming a donor that easy? Is it just about masturbating into a cup and taking home the money? Not quite, say experts. The procedure is long drawn and requires undergoing a list of examinations, some of which can even be intrusive in nature.
"An anonymous donor needs to go through a multitude of tests, like HIV, blood sugar, Hepatitis B and C, psychological mapping, STDs, et cetera. Moreover, the candidate's first sperm specimen is not used for the procedure. It is quarantined for at least three months and checked for all kinds of infections. After this, we ask him to come in again and give two to three fresh samples, which are thereafter used for all in-vitro fertilisation procedures," says Sinha. "It is a one-year commitment at the minimum that we seek from a prospective donor," adds Patil, who rejects non-serious candidates waltzing in for a lark.

Bandra-based IVF specialist Hitesh Parikh, though, isn't keen on hiring students for the job. "At my clinic, I rely on candidates who have fathered children before. They tend to be mature and understand the gravity of the situation. Also, one is assured that these men are virile and will have a good motility rate in their sperm."

As one donor said wryly, "Nothing comes easy for students."

diya. banerjee@timesgroup. com

Easy come, easy go? Not really

In a sperm bank, the donor signs a contract to donate sperm for a specific period of time. He has to notify the bank if he gets any sexual infection. He has to abstain from sex or masturbation for 48 hours before making a donation. Under Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines, a donor has to be in the age group of 21 to 43 years. Sperm banks usually seek a batch of 10 samples within a certain period, which is then quarantined in liquid nitrogen for 90 days and checked for motility, infections and diseases. The samples are thawed when required and used to impregnate women through artificial insemination. After the first batch of donation, he is free to start afresh


Price tag

For each donation, the donor is paid from
Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000
Annually, he can earn up to Rs 40,000 or more.


Data Bank

A sperm bank meticulously catalogues both physical and cultural characteristics of the donor for clients to make informed choices - hair and eye colour, height, weight, complexion, educational qualifications, mother tongue are all mentioned.


Egging them on

Compared to donating sperms, egg donation is an invasive and a risky procedure. Hormone injections are needed for a period of 10 days. She has to then undergo a pelvic exam, checks for STDs and ultrasound to examine health of the ovaries. She is also evaluated by a psychologist for her mental preparedness. Next, follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) are given to trigger egg production. Once the doctor decides the follicles are mature, the egg retrieval procedure is scheduled. And, 36 hours before retrieval, she must administer one last injection of HCG hormone to ensure that her eggs are ready to be harvested. The egg retrieval is a minimally invasive surgical procedure lasting 20-30 minutes, performed under light anaesthesia. An ultrasound-guided needle, which extracts the eggs, is inserted through the vagina to aspirate the follicles in both ovaries.

Risks

Bleeding from the oocyte recovery procedure and reaction to the hormones used can be a fallout.

Pricetag

An egg donor is paid well - anywhere between Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 per donation.

Reader's opinion (3)

Cagedsoul Apr 13th, 2013 at 11:48 AM

I think if this is better publicized, students would be relieved from their constant financial problems

Archie Dec 19th, 2011 at 15:56 PM

This initiative wil help many childless couples,gr8...

Ankur AgarwalMay 16th, 2011 at 12:47 PM

The initiative is good, however openness in the society might be a curtailing factor. It would be advisable to not let this idea spread hap-hazardously, else the whole concept will get ruined.

 
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