The Perils of Assisted Reproductive Technology #6

He was the perfect sperm donor. Then 26 families found out he wasn’t

At least 36 donor-conceived children face uncertain futures after their supposedly healthy sperm donor turned out to be a man with serious mental illness.

By: Theresa Boyle Health, Published on Sat Apr 09 2016

The donor was nothing like the perfectly healthy man — aside from some colour blindness on his dad’s side — touted on the sperm bank’s website. Nor was he working on a PhD in neuroscience engineering en route to becoming a professor of biomedical robotics at a medical school.

Instead, Chris Aggeles, a now 39-year-old man from Georgia, has struggled with serious mental illness for much of his adult life. In addition to schizophrenia, court documents show he has had diagnoses of bipolar and narcissistic personality disorders, and has described himself as having schizoaffective disorder.

He has a history of run-ins with the law, has done time in jail, dropped out of college and struggled in the past to hold down jobs.

His sperm has been used to create 36 children: 19 boys and 17 girls from 26 families, according to a 2014 email to Collins from Georgia-based sperm bank Xytex Corp.

The international debacle has shaken confidence in the industry and fuelled a cross-border debate over the ethics of paying men for their sperm. In Canada, where it is illegal, there are calls to change the law to help address a shortage of sperm, and opposing arguments against its commercialization.

Allegations against Xytex, which include fraud and negligent misrepresentation, have not been proven in court and the company denies any wrongdoing….

But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney pointed out that the law is behind the times when it comes to dealing with advances in reproductive technologies, and suggested there should be some way for plaintiffs to seek justice.

“Science has once again — as it always does — outstripped the law,” he wrote. “Plaintiffs make a compelling argument that there should be a way for parties aggrieved as these Plaintiffs are to pursue negligence claims against a service provider in pre-conception services.”

“Given the current state of affairs in the sperm-bank industry, it is strictly a matter of luck if a sperm donor is an upstanding and healthy individual, not a matter of testing, screening, regulating or legislating,” Collins charges.

“Who would have thought that an industry that makes people would be like this?”

Note the absolute cluelessness. Who would have thought that an industry that treats human beings as a product would act unethically in any way? Does she not understand that this industry not only makes people but also kills them if they are unwanted?

She has spent much of the last 22 months calling and writing to sperm banks, distributors and bureaucrats, urging them to address the lack of industry oversight, insufficient screening of sperm donors and Canada’s reliance on U.S. imports.

Why should taxpayers foot the bill?

Hersh calls Collins a “hero” for her ongoing efforts and for going public with the battle.

“She is the Erin Brockovich of the sperm-bank set,” Hersh says. “She is very brave and courageous to be doing all of this to prevent these problems from happening to other people.”

The best way to prevent these problems from happening to other people is to ban assisted reproductive technology.

Collins always wanted to have children, but being in a same-sex relationship presented a challenge. In need of sperm, she and Hanson spent about four months in 2006 researching their options.

In today’s world merely wanting children is reason enough to have them. What is best for the child is irrelevant.

In 2006, Collins pored over Xytex’s online catalogue in search of a donor. From hundreds of profiles, she zeroed in on “donor 9623” because he was “the male version of my partner,” she says. Like Hanson, the man in the ad was blue eyed, intelligent, academically accomplished and musically gifted.

The donor’s full profile, an archived copy of which can still be found on Xytex’s website, states he has an IQ of 160 (the same as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking), bachelor’s and master’s degrees in neuroscience and is pursuing a PhD.

He has received international acclaim for his talent as a drummer, it says.

Obtained by the Star, the 2006 recording portrays an articulate and impressive-sounding young man who says he speaks five languages, is studying artificial intelligence and plans on becoming a professor of biomedical robotics at a medical school.

He says he reads four or five books a month (“non-fiction mostly”) and tells of once winning a pizza party at Pizza Hut because he read 300 books in a single month.

The interview was not available when Collins chose 9623. The written profile was nevertheless enough to sell her on him.

Doesn’t the donor sound too good to be true (note: later in the article we learn that he probably is quite intelligent but has mental health issues)? I particularly like the part about reading 300 books in a single month. Either the donor is lying through his teeth (that comes out to 10 books a day in a 30-day month) or he was reading children’s books. I can remember Pizza Hut giving away pizzas to young readers when I was a child. But the fact that this man appeared perfect is not what gave Collins pause.

She admits there was one sentence that gave her pause: “The medical and social history was provided by the donor and cannot be verified for accuracy.

Collins says she was concerned enough to call Xytex and alleges that her misgivings were allayed when a company representative told her: “We do all of our own internal testing to the degree that you will know more about your donor than your own partner.

The problem is that you don’t know how trustworthy Xytex is either. You get to know your partner in an experiential manner that you will never know a faceless corporation.

The mothers who used 9623’s sperm learned of his real identity when Xytex released it to some of them in a 2014 email, seemingly inadvertently and “in a breach of confidentiality,” Hersh says….

Through public record searches, the Star has verified Aggeles’ donor profile contained incorrect information and has discovered additional details about his mental health, criminal past, education and work history.

In an open letter posted on the company’s website last April, president Kevin O’Brien indicated Xytex relies on the honour system when it comes to collecting medical and social histories of donors. Xytex has always been upfront about letting would-be parents know the company does not corroborate such information, he said.

Collins wants the Canadian government to amend the 2004 Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which made it illegal to pay sperm donors, egg donors and surrogates anything but expenses.

She may have found a friend in Quebec Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal). A lawyer, he has been pushing for changes to the legislation since getting elected last October, prompted by friends who have hit him up for free legal advice after being stymied in their attempts to expand their families through assisted reproduction.

They have been forced to look abroad for sperm, eggs and surrogates because the legislation limits availability here, he says, explaining that demand for assisted human reproduction is growing because of the increase in same-sex unions, single parents and women conceiving later in life.

Just because there’s a demand does not mean we have to meet said demand.

She says she feels cheated: “I felt like I was duped by Xytex and I failed my son for having chosen Xytex. In hindsight, a hitchhiker on the side of the road would have been a far more responsible option for conceiving a child.”

Of course if she had not chosen Xytex her son would not exist. A different son would exist. The responsible option is to conceive with a spouse of the opposite sex who you will spend the rest of your life with. This way the child can know his/her biological parents and not be reduced to a product.

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