How is it that in a time of red-tape, laws and more laws, sperm banks have remained grossly unregulated? Better yet, how have they remained “self regulated?”
By law, all sperm banks must register with the FDA. However, FDA regulations deal primarily with determination of donor eligibility and documentation (or lack thereof) and are focused on infectious disease risks. Genetic screening and testing are not addressed.
So how is this permitted?
I had to jump through hoops to get my daughter a passport (due to a lack of signature from a noncustodial, no longer involved 2nd parent)… but you can knock yourself out and throw 30 vials of sperm into your online, virtual shopping cart—from the same donor that helped a woman who lives a block from you produce 4 children—and purchase human tissue without as much as a nod.
I’ll tell you how…. it’s called money. BIG money.
Now for a little math lesson.
I’m going to ignore the terminology for a minute—because there’s a lot of it (ie anonymous donors, willing-to-be-known (WTBK) donors, ID release donors, open donors). I’ll save that lesson for another day. For now let’s just focus on figures.
For the purpose of this math lesson, I’m going to use figures from the sperm bank industry giant—California Cryobank (CCB). Keep in mind, the numbers below refer to only one sperm bank.
At CCB, sperm donors are encouraged to donate 2-3 times per week. Compensation is dependent on their donor status… are they entirely anonymous or willing-to-be-known when the fruits of their labor turn 18? The more a donor is willing to reveal, the more they’re compensated. This presents its own slew of issues—but let me not regress. On average, donors make about $125 a visit. For their efforts, CCB donors can make as much as $1500 a month.
Each donation/deposit (let’s keep this clean folks) produces as many as 24 vials of usable sperm. HOLY SPERM—Yes, you read that correctly! So how much do vials sell for? As of January 2018, CCB sells their anonymous donors for $795, open donors for $945 and their premiere, Cadillac, willing-to-be-known donors for $995 PER VIAL.
Here’s where you’ll need your calculator.
Let’s use conservative figures. If donor X visits the bank twice weekly, each time creating 12 vials of sperm (remember, each donation can create up to 24 vials) and his vials each sell for $795 (CCB’s cheapest option)…. how much does donor X make for CCB in 52 weeks?
His donation (interesting word) amounts to $19,080 per week…. $992,160 per year. At best, he makes $1500 a month, amounting to $18,000 a year and it costs CCB roughly $1500 to screen him for STD’s and perform a few (one time only) genetic tests. So conservatively speaking, the annual value for their cheapest, midrange producing donor is $972,660.
Of course these figures don’t include CCB’s a la carte menu of services such as their extended donor profiles, facial feature reports, donor conversations, childhood photos or handwriting analysis (really people???)— nor does it include their 90 day member subscription options or their sperm storage fees. But at this point, why bother?
As of today, CCB has 580 active sperm donors. I’ll do the math for you…. $564,142,800.
So when people call the business of $perm a multimillion dollar industry, they’re not kidding.
The huge final number at the end is what CCB would collect if they sold every single vial for every donor. Part of the markup, as in any business, is to compensate for any vials that go unsold. And I’m sure many do go unsold. Still, it’s clear many ARE sold–the industry is booming–so much so that some highly sought after donors are asked to come out of “retirement” when they sell out of his vials. Also, some banks are capped once a donor has reached a certain number of offsprings and retired once they’ve hit that number. (Though that doesn’t happen here.)
The point is–these numbers are estimates, but should give you some sense of the underlying issue. Which is this:
Sperm banks are grossly unregulated because they have a significant financial incentive to remain unregulated.
And they say you can’t put a dollar value on human life…..