Israeli sperm banks said to see spike in donations amid COVID-19 economic crisis

Some public hospitals report a jump in donations of up to 300% amid historically high unemployment, report says; donors can earn over NIS 4,000 per month

Illustrative. In vitro fertilization (IVF) of an egg cell. (iStock by Getty Images/ man_at_mouse)
Illustrative. In vitro fertilization (IVF) of an egg cell. (iStock by Getty Images/ man_at_mouse)

Hundreds of Israeli men have reportedly resorted to donating sperm for income amid the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The donors include recently released soldiers and students, many of whom were recently laid off from work or put on unpaid leave, according to a Friday report from Channel 12.

Unemployment in Israel on Sunday stood at 21.1 percent — or 855,380 people — as restrictions imposed amid record daily coronavirus infections further battered the economy and the government struggled to quickly roll out an economic aid package proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Public and private sperm banks pay hundreds to thousands of shekels per donation. Some public banks have seen an increase in donors of up to 300% in recent weeks, the report said.

A 25-year-old from Haifa named Alon told the network that he had lost his job as a chef and racked up tens of thousands of shekels in debts, forcing him to leave his apartment and move in with his parents.

While looking for a new source of income, Alon came across a notice at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center seeking donors for the hospital’s sperm bank.

“I decided it was a good opportunity to make money,” Alon told Channel 12. “For just a few minutes of ‘work,’ I can easily earn, without any effort, NIS 3,000 [$879] a month and more. It’s a great income at this time, while I’m unemployed.”

“I know of many young people who came into a lot of debt because of the coronavirus, and decided to donate sperm at the private sperm banks or the hospitals so they would have money to pay off debts to survive this terrible time,” he said.

A 26-year-old student from Tel Aviv said he had donated to a private sperm bank several times and earned around NIS 5,000 ($1,400).

“I had never before been exposed to sperm banks. A good friend said I could join him to donate sperm and said it really paid off. For every donation, I can make NIS 1,000, NIS 1,500, which is better than nothing. At least I have a secure income so I don’t go broke and can pay rent,” he said.

People walk past closed stores in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, May 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Private sperm banks pay up to NIS 1,500 ($440) per donation, depending on the donor’s details, including education level, military experience and parental background, the report said.

Recipients pay hundreds to thousands of shekels to the sperm banks for quality assurances and expensive genetic tests, with private banks charging significantly higher prices.

At public hospitals donors receive around NIS 600 per donation, but can donate twice a week and earn around NIS 4,800 a month in tax free income, the report said.

Earlier in the pandemic, there were no sperm donations due to lockdown restrictions and fears they virus could be transmitted via sperm. When lockdowns were lifted, private sperm banks saw an increase in donations of 15 to 30%. Public banks in hospitals saw a jump in donations of between 100-300%.

“From our perspective, this is a good thing that allows us to give our patients a large choice of donors, and not fewer than a sperm bank in a private medical center,” said Dr. Ofer Feinro, the manager of the hospital’s sperm bank. “Our goal as a public medical institution is to give to our patients the best service possible and the increase in the number of donors is a significant help.”

Feinro attributed the rise in donors primarily to the economic crisis, and added that the hospital had carried out an advertising campaign to encourage young people to donate.

Self-employed Israelis protest at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, calling for financial support from the Israeli government on July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

In March, the Healthy Ministry suspended all in vitro fertilization treatments due to the pandemic as it scaled back nonessential medical treatments, before beginning to allow the procedures again in late April.

In vitro — literally, “in glass” — fertilization typically involves a round of hormone treatments to stimulate a woman’s ovaries’ follicles, in order to produce several mature eggs; a procedure to retrieve those eggs; incubating the eggs with sperm in order to fertilize them (this is the “in glass” part); selecting the embryo, or embryos, with the best chance of a successful pregnancy; and implanting it or them in a woman’s uterus, where the embryo will hopefully implant, and develop into a fetus.

IVF is a difficult process — technically and emotionally — that requires close, regular monitoring and, even when done properly, statistically fails more often than it succeeds. Yet in Israel, which has the highest rate of IVF in the world, roughly 5% of all births come from the procedure, according to Health Ministry data from 2017.

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