The 180

Why the majority of sperm donations in Canada are from the U.S.

There's a shortage of Canadian sperm donors in this country, and fertility doctor Alfonso Del Valle of The Toronto Institute for Reproductive Medicine says the majority of donated sperm is imported from the U.S. because of a hypocrisy in the Canadian system.

Canadian fertility doctor says hypocrisy in system is causing shortages

A doctor prepares eggs and sperm for an attempt at artificial insemination. ((Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters))

If you're a would-be Canadian parent with a patriotic bent and you're looking for help conceiving, there could be cause for concern. That's because there's a shortage in this country — of Canadian sperm. 

Toronto-based fertility doctor Alfonso Del Valle, of Repro Med — The Toronto Institute for Reproductive Medicine, says the majority of donated sperm in Canada is imported from the U.S., due in part to a hypocrisy in the system that discourages sperm donation in this country.

He says that somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent of donated sperm used in this country is from Canadian donors.

In the U.S., sperm donors are paid for their services. But in Canada, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act — passed in 2004 — made it illegal to pay donors in this country. 

(The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.)

if the American system seems to be working, why don't we just pay Canadian men to make sperm donations?

With the experience that we've had since the inception of the act in 2004, the difficulties recruiting donors, we wish (for) a process of reimbursement that will be simplified. We have a law that allows for the importation of semen samples of individuals that have been outright paid ... and yet we cannot recruit donors in Canada. And the ones that we recruit, they need to go through this vilified process of having to provide all these receipts and so on. This is a double standard that needs to end. 

How do families react when you tell them the sperm that you're giving them is not Canadian? 

They're quite surprised that given the population that we have, there aren't enough individuals that will be willing to participate and resolve the needs of donation in this country. 

So for people who are concerned that if you started paying people to donate, you'd find people who are unemployed or underemployed trying to make money doing this - you're not proposing that. You're just proposing a streamlined system so that the expenses and the inconvenience is covered and covered easily? 

That's correct. The process of recruitment today has without a doubt enabled us in Canada to recruit a very different donor than we used to recruit in the early 90s and 80s.

The individual that we recruit today is an individual that is gainfully employed ... but individuals that are genuinely interested in participating. They will do it even if it was required for them to open their identity, etc. It's a very different profile of an individual, and it is quite unfair and they feel vilified - even though they wish to come in and provide a gift, they still have to go through this very cumbersome exercise of providing receipts and so on. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.