According to the sperm bank, he was the “perfect donor.” Originally known to prospective clients only by his handle, Donor 9623, this individual seemed like quite the biological catch. He appeared on the website of the Georgia-based firm Xytex Corp, where he was described as a healthy man who was pursuing a PhD in neuroscience engineering. He had an IQ of 160, according to the website, and met or exceeded the firm’s strict physical and mental health standards.
Plot twist: It was all a lie.
This “genius donor” was actually 39-year-old college dropout James Christopher Aggeles. Not only had he been arrested for burglary—psychiatrists had diagnosed him with a litany of mental health issues including bipolar, schizophrenia, and narcissistic personality disorder. What’s even worse is that the sperm bank claimed they didn’t have any of this information. Multiple families are alleging that the company representatives actually knew, yet decided to turn their heads the other way. Aggeles’ sperm was used not once, not twice, but in fact was used so often that he ended up having 36 children in 26 families.
Meet Angie Collins, the mother of one of those children—a 6-year-old boy.
One day her morning started like any other day. She got up, made coffee, and checked her email only to find a message from a complete stranger. Another woman had used the same man’s sperm to become pregnant. However, what this woman had that Collins didn’t was the truth. Instantly Collins’ heart sunk as she read the horrendous realities that had come to light: her son was about to have a lifetime of struggles before him. She immediately searched for information that could disprove the allegation, but, in fact, she found out so much more. The sperm donor she selected couldn’t hold down a job, kept going in and out of jail, and his schizophrenia was getting increasingly worse. “It was like a dream turned nightmare in an instant,” she told The Star.
But many families discovered that their legal options were limited.
Collins sued Xytex in Georgia, but her claim was dismissed. The judge considered it a “wrongful birth” lawsuit, a type of claim that isn’t recognized in Georgia. So she appealed. Her appeal was also dismissed. Now three families are suing Xytex in Canada, citing the misinformation on the company’s website regarding the identity of the donor. Xytex has stated that it will “vigorously defend” itself from lawsuits, claiming that its practices are in full compliance with industry standards. Yes, this may seem like a parent’s worse nightmare, but for these families the outcome could have been a lot worse… In fact, there’s a collection of sperm-donor stories that are much worse—stories you have to read to believe. A doctor who inseminated patients with his own sperm instead of the selected donor’s? Two different sperm samples being used on a woman at the same time, resulting in twins who are also half-siblings? A donor who’s fathered over 150 children? A child with the DNA of three different parents? And what about this case involving a sperm donor being hit with $1,600 in back child support by the state of Kansas?
Clearly, sperm-donor cases can descend into the truly bizarre.
In 1993, an unusual error led to twins from separate fathers.
Koen and Tuen Stuart are fraternal twins, but due to a mix-up during in vitro fertilization, they have different fathers: one Caucasian and one African-American. Naturally, the boys’ parents were shocked. “I descend from French gypsies and he descends from Mongolian people so a little brown could be somewhere in the family,” said Wilma Stuart, the boys’ mother. “But it never eased my mind. It never did. [Koen] was too different.” DNA testing proved that the boys had different fathers, but the same mother. While the issue has greatly complicated the boys’ lives—they were teased relentlessly at school, to the point that Koen wouldn’t admit to having a twin for a brief time—the family has remained strong, and the in vitro fertilization error seems unlikely to re-occur. In any case, the family has moved on. “We have to go to work and school,” Stuart said to NBC News, “so our day to day life is not about this.”
Then there’s the case of one donor with 150 children.
When Cynthia Daily and her partner used a sperm donor to conceive, they decided to reach out through a web-based registry to find other parents who’d used the same donor. These registries help to provide parents with genetic information crucial to the health of their children (as was the case in the Xytex incident). But Daily was surprised to find that the biological father of her child had fathered at least 150 other children. She’s been cataloging her son’s half-siblings and building relationships with other parents ever since. “It’s wild when we see them all together—they all look alike,” Daily told The New York Times. Still, this prompted some debate, as some experts believe that sperm donations should be limited to ensure biological diversity. Donor registries are designed, in part, to prevent accidental incest, which can be a significant issue. “My daughter knows her donor’s number for this very reason,” one mother told The New York Times. “She’s been in school with numerous kids who were born through donors. She’s had crushes on boys who are donor children. It’s become part of sex education.”
Perhaps the most disturbing fertility case comes from Alexandria, Virginia.
Cecil B. Jacobson, an infertility specialist, was found guilty of fraud in 1992. During testimony, prosecutors revealed that he used his own sperm to impregnate patients without their knowledge. Jacobson, who was 55 when he was convicted, was one of the country’s leading infertility specialists. He introduced amniocentesis, a test that allows physicians to diagnose certain birth defects by extracting fluid from the womb during a pregnancy. “I spent my life trying to help women have children,” Jacobson said. “If I felt I was a criminal or broke the law, I would never have done it.” But his former patients say that he combined his own sperm with legitimate samples. Prosecutors said that he may have fathered as many as 75 children by claiming that the sperm used in his treatments came from anonymous sources. While the case was well covered, Jacobson did not face charges for inseminating patients with his own sperm, as there was no law against that practice. Instead, he faced various criminal fraud charges.
The Xytex case has prompted a fierce debate over sperm-donation law.
Canada has laws that prevent sperm donors from receiving money for their donations. The United States has no such laws. But regulation advocates claim that these cases demonstrate why donor payments are unethical. They argue that removing payments would also remove the incentive to lie on applications. However, donor payment regulations have caused a sperm shortage in Canada, where some lawmakers are calling for changes. They believe that proper vetting from the sperm banks would remove the most egregious mistakes, such as the one that affected the parents in the Xytex case. Fulton County, Georgia, Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney pointed out the inherent difficulties of legislation when denying Collins’ claim in the first Xytex lawsuit. “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.”
Part of the issue is that at many insemination clinics, requirements are lax.
Sperm banks require their donors to be legal U.S. workers, and all donors must undergo basic STD testing, drug screening, and semen analysis. But while many clinics test for genetic diseases, comprehensive testing doesn’t exist, and clinics rely on donors’ honesty when evaluating for many psychological disorders. A healthy donor can make up to $1,000 per month, so for donors, there’s a strong incentive to gain a “qualified” designation by any means necessary. That’s not to say that the process itself is easy. Donors typically undergo blood tests and must wait six months before being paid for their “donations.” Reputable banks also require their donors to complete exhaustive questionnaires with medical staff present. But for parents looking into sperm donation, the Xytex incident and similar cases show how mistakes can affect the health of children—and for many prospective parents, current standards don’t go far enough in preventing these types of occurrences.