The Need for Sperm Bank Transparency

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility, Sperm Donation

CBS News recently explained there is “limited government oversight” in the sperm bank industry. Around the country, lawsuits have emerged for various reasons including lost frozen sperm vials, and even more recently, a donor who claimed to be a neuroscientist but in truth was schizophrenic and held no college degree.Sperm

According to reports, the FDA mandates that sperm donors be tested for a total of only eight diseases.

“No one regulates how sperm banks keep track of biological materials, or do genetic testing or other vetting of donors,” said CBS News.

Compare that with a typical egg donor cycle where the woman can be tested for more than 100 different medical conditions to determine if she is a carrier of diseases such as cystic fibrosis or Tay-Sachs. While sperm banks do have a questionnaire for donors, it appears that egg donor agencies raise the bar, requiring that their candidates complete a comprehensive profile covering personal information, employment, education, relationship status, traits and characteristics, prior donor history, medical and family history, current medications and more.

If a donor advances to the next phase of screening, these answers are checked and verified.

It’s customary for egg donor agencies to work in tandem with clinics that eventually approve or deny a donor based upon either their profile alone or to the combination of their profile and medical records.  If approved, a candidate continues on to medical screenings to determine medical clearance eligibility.

In addition to medical and psychological screenings, in most cases, legal contracts are also drafted between the donor and intended parents.

Most agencies also respect ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) guidelines in not exceeding more than six cycles per donor.

Top-tier egg donor agencies provide intended parents with a variety of photos of their donors at different stages of life, including childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Some agencies offer short videos of their donors so intended parents can view more than just images. They also welcome their donor candidates to submit photos of other family members.

Conversely, sperm banks are known to offer limited photos, which can make the decision making process more challenging for intended parents.

In light of these recent cases, sperm banks are being encouraged to evaluate their policies, practices and guidelines to help ensure more transparency. In the meantime, I would encourage prospective parents via sperm donation to look to the egg donation field for best practices and insist that your chosen sperm donor be held to the same.

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Another groundbreaking ruling for gay parental rights

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Fertility, Infertility, LGBT, Sperm Donation

Many former same-sex couples are fighting—and winning—legal parentage for the children they helped raised, despite having no biological relation to them nor having ever adopted them.

The recent decision made by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) involved Karen Partanen, and her former partner, Julie Gallagher. Through artificial insemination, the couple had two children who are currently four and eight years of age. Gallagher is the biological mother who gave birth to the children.

The ladies ended their relationship in 2013. Partanen co-parented her children, and after the breakup, she wanted the courts to recognize her as a legal parent.

But that didn’t happen.

AP Legal Affairs writer, Denise Lavoie writes, “A family court judge dismissed Partanen’s request, finding that she didn’t meet the requirements under state law because she and Gallagher were not married when the children were born, and Partanen is not a biological parent.”

That decision, however, was overturned by SJC. The highest court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ruled that Partanen could be granted the same parental rights as her children’s biological mother. SJC broadened their view of parentage: A non-biological gay parent could be a “presumptive parent” under their state law.

pexels-photo-105855-mediumMoving forward, a biological parent may have a more difficult time blocking visitation from their ex-partners. In Massachusetts, estranged gay parents now have the potential to be reunited with their children, and this ruling may also help alleviate a non-biological parent’s deep concern from becoming alienated in the event of a breakup.

“The plain language of the provisions, then, may be construed to apply to children born to same-sex couples, even though at least one member of the couple may well lack biological ties to the children,” Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the court in the unanimous decision.

In the article, Lavoie appropriately highlighted how SJC declared the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. In 2003, Massachusetts was the first state in the country to recognize same-sex marriage. Many consider the state to remain on the fast track of equality especially following SJC’s recent ruling.

Representing Partanen was GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders. Mary Bonauto, who serves as the firm’s civil rights project director, called SJC’s decision as a major victory for those who have contemporary families.

“It is especially a victory for the children in those families who should not be deprived of their parents because those parents are not married or used assisted reproduction,” she shared.

While this ruling is indeed groundbreaking, it’s on the heels of another landmark decision made in August. The New York Court of Appeals reversed the 1991 ruling of Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M., which had enforced no visitation or custody rights to those that had no biological or adoptive ties to their children.

Change is happening—an optimistic domino effect of equality is starting to take shape.

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Retired IVF physician enters a not guilty plea

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Egg Donation, Embryo Donation, Fertility, Infertility, IVF, Sperm Donation, Surrogacy

Retired fertility doctor Donald Cline , who retired in 2009 and whose medical practice was based in Indianapolis recently entered a not guilty plea on felony charges for obstruction of justice based on statements he provided to investigators.

Cline is being accused of having used his own sperm (up to 50 times) on his patients that were battling infertility—without their consent.

Media reports have indicated how Cline told his patients that the donor sperm used were from medical students. He also conveyed how a donor would be discontinued after three successful pregnancies were reached.

Angela Ganote, a reporter for Fox59, brought this case to light after interviewing siblings who had an unknown biological link to Cline.

From reports, it all started when a woman decided to take a 23andMe DNA test.

Wanting to keep her anonymity, this woman told Fox59 that she was raised as an only child. She was aware that her conception occurred via artificial insemination; however, she was dumbfounded when her DNA results revealed she had eight other siblings – and possibly more. She and her siblings had genetic ties to Cline.

doctor-medical-medicine-health-42273-mediumReports noted how things began to unravel for Cline in 2014 when two of his donor children launched complaints with their State Attorney General. Those complaints evolved into a criminal case.

According to the media, Cline replied to those initial complaints in a letter (sections below):

“I can emphatically say that at no time did I ever use my own sample for insemination,” and “in fact, if this woman is saying this or writing this I believe she is guilt of slander and/or libel.”

According to DNA tests results, Cline’s original statement is purported to be false. And at a later time, it appears he recanted this earlier version as compared to the court records which became available this year. He did disclose the knowledge of having biological children via artificial insemination.

“He [Cline] used his own sperm whenever he didn’t have a donor sample available.” The court records went on to cite, “He felt that he was helping women because they really wanted a baby.”

“The overriding issue is truthfulness,” Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Tim DeLaney said. He continued, “From our perspective the moment it got elevated to an investigation by the AG’s office, it was his obligation to tell the truth and he lied.”

Following Cline’s not guilty plea, his attorney released a statement.

“There seems to be some confusion in the media as to the ‘crime’ that Dr. Cline was actually charged. The charges arise solely from his written response to inquiries from the Indiana Attorney General’s office and nothing more. He is not accused of hiding documents, influencing witnesses or otherwise not cooperating with the AG’s investigation. Because we are at the beginning of the criminal procedure, any further comments must be reserved so that the judicial process can proceed in the appropriate manner,” the attorney said.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is for the jury to decide.

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Governor signs surrogacy parentage protection act into law

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Egg Donation, Embryo Donation, Fertility, Infertility, IVF, LGBT, Sperm Donation, Surrogacy

pexels-photo-108070-mediumOn September 16, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2349 that will protect the rights of those who have their children via gestational surrogate, including many same-sex couples, from having their parental rights jeopardized or put at risk outside the state of California.

AB 2349, which was crafted by Assemblymember David Chui of San Francisco, helps safeguard parental rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.

According to a press release originating from David Chui’s office this month, AB 2349 will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

“As LGBT civil rights are threatened in other states at an alarming rate, California is once again continuing to lead the nation in protecting all families, including same-sex couples forming their families through assisted reproduction,” Assemblymember Chiu said in his press release. He added, “We are helping to ensure that the progressive protections offered in California regarding parentage rights are respected and enforced across state lines.”

The press release noted that in Texas and Alabama, recent cases have placed non-biological parents in a precarious position in where they had to defend their right of parentage.

Not all states are enlightened like California. Yes, even though same-sex marriage is legal across the nation, some states may cite that parents who do not have biological ties to their child must obtain an adoption order.

The goal of AB 2349 is to protect all intended parents, biological or not.

“LGBT parents are especially vulnerable when our community is targeted with discriminatory laws,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, who was quoted in the press release. He went on to say, “This law will strengthen the rights of California LGBT parents whether their children are born in or out of state from the moment of conception, through birth and beyond.”

The press release also pointed out that some states that are resisting equality are creating ways to destabilize the rights of same-sex marriage. An example used was a judgment which denied “full faith and credit” simply because the court’s decision lacked jurisdiction.

The press release cited, “This bill provides two simple clarifications that would help many parents, especially same-sex couples, avoid costly litigation and emotionally distressing situations that could potentially lead to losing their wanted child, as well as protecting California surrogates from another state entering an order inconsistent with California’s legislative scheme.”

Governor Brown’s signature underscored a momentous step which brings the LGBT community closer to equal legal protection that should be afforded all families.

“It is important for parents of children conceived through artificial reproduction in California from having their rights violated outside our state.  AB 2349 will secure the future of these families created through surrogacy, egg or sperm donation, by allowing their California agreements upheld regardless of where they live now or sometime in the future,” said Kristine Colburn, president of the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers in the press release.

While many don’t want to see another year fly by, when it comes to AB 2349, the New Year can’t get here soon enough.

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India’s Surrogacy Bill 2016: Is Commercial Surrogacy Gone for Good?

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility, Surrogacy

For the past 14 years, commercial surrogacy has been practiced in India. However, commercial surrogacy, estimated to be a $2 billion dollar industry, may soon be prohibited. On August 24, the Union Cabinet approved the introduction of Surrogacy Bill 2016, which would impose a blanket ban on commercial surrogacy. The new regulation bill only permits altruistic surrogacy, where the surrogate is a close relative of the intended parents, and is granted only to heterosexual Indian couples who have been married for at least five years.  indian-surrogates

Surrogacy Bill 2016 was prompted by the proliferation of surrogacy clinics and concern for the welfare for women who became surrogates, a genuine concern that needed to be addressed.

There are many opponents who are speaking out regarding what they say is its innate unfairness. Some critics share that rather than protecting women, the Cabinet instead took on a dictatorial role in determining who can become parents through surrogacy.

Also disappointing is the idea that the Bill in no way protects women even in the case of “ethical surrogacy.” Reporter for The Wire, Chithra P. George, shares that there may be some looming legal and ethical concerns.

“…Law Commission of India – provides for a blanket ban on commercial surrogacy and only permits altruistic surrogacy by a close relative, who must have given birth to a child,” George writes. “This in itself is problematic as it could violate the woman’s fundamental right to livelihood – in this case through surrogacy – as guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution. Also, the restriction that the surrogate must only be a ‘close relative’ of the commissioning parents may result in ethical issues wherein the child and the surrogate develop an intimate bond, given that both are known, accessible and related to each other.”

Critics are alarmed that this Bill could trigger an underground surrogacy trade.

Protecting women from such exploitation was one of the core reasons in propelling this Bill forward. Now, the government may actually be exacerbating this problem.

George delves deeper into the Bill, dissecting the portion which excludes same-sex couples, single individuals, and divorced persons from ever becoming a parent through surrogacy. While these definitions highlight a societal regression, the author also points out that this framework violates the ‘right to reproductive autonomy’ which was underscored in B.K. Parthasarathi vs Government of Andhra Pradesh.

Others have also criticized the bill for prohibiting couples from seeking surrogacy if they already have a child. Therefore, in cases of secondary infertility, these individuals would not be granted permission to seek the help of a relative to become a surrogate.

There is a worry that these Bill restrictions are too stifling.

Bearing that in mind, the Health Minister has told its people that any Bill revisions will address these concerns.

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The Art of Waiting Shines Light on Infertility

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility

There’s a popular adage that goes something like this: “Be kind, because that person may be fighting his or her own battle.” These words are something to live by, and even more so, when one encounters someone who is struggling with the emotional and physical turmoil of infertility.

Belle Boggs, the author of “The Art of Waiting,” shares stories that come from the heart.  With an underlying current of compassion, Boggs who suffered from her own infertility, conveys the plight of couples who have lived the life of infertility, attempted adoption both nationally and internationally, and spoke with heterosexual and same-sex couples contemplating assisted reproduction and much more.

A7GEAW_2378638bBoggs breathes new life into a subject that causes so many to suffer in silence.

Boggs writes in her piece, “Many infertile women say that the worst part of the experience is the jealousy they feel toward pregnant women, who seem to be everywhere when you are trying (and failing) to conceive.”

How are we as a society conveying our compassion to those who are failing to conceive month after month? According to research, despite any well-intentioned attempts, we fall short.

“Does anyone really care that someone cannot have a baby?” And does this lack of empathy become more crystallized when infertile couples and individuals are asked, “Why don’t you just adopt?”

While it’s a simple question often posed by a family member or friend, the truth of the matter is that adoption is far from easy.

“Adoption, whenever it takes place, is traumatic for someone involved: the birth mother or father, the bewildered new parents, the child. Sometimes all of them. Yet it is also a powerful, attractive narrative, especially in the face of infertility,” Boggs shares in her piece. “Look up any list of things not to say to infertile couples, and you’ll find the suggestion, ‘You should just adopt’—we’ve heard it, and read it, and probably even thought it ourselves. There are so many children in the world who need homes, the story goes, millions of them. To focus on your loss, your inability to become pregnant or have a genetically related child, is selfish.”

Since when did wanting a child of one’s own become selfish? It’s not selfish for those who can conceive, correct?

Boggs goes on to point out that adoption can prove to be as “frightening of an unknown” as assisted reproduction. There are just so many variables.

In her piece, Boggs interviews a couple by the name of Parul and Nate Goetz. After multiple failed fertility treatments and heartbreaking miscarriages, they decided to adopt.

Nate shared with Boggs that the business of adoption, “…has very little empathy, and that’s a problem. You’re talking about three different people: the birth mother, the child, the adoptive parents. It requires a great deal of empathy.”

Infertility is not a choice or a lifestyle– it’s a harsh reality that many individuals and couples face every single day. And we need to recognize this.

“The life an infertile person seeks comes to her not by accident and not by fate but by hard-fought choices,” Boggs shares.

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Appellate Court in New York Redefines Parentage

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, LGBT

A recent landmark ruling at the New York State Court of Appeals has redefined those with parental rights to include “de facto” parents with no adoptive or biological ties to the child, which is particularly important for same-sex partners. This Court decision set a powerful tone and precedent by deciding that a child’s “caretaker” has a legal right to ask for visitation or custody even though there may be no biological link to that child.CourtofAppealsPano

This outcome will transform the custody battle landscape and has expanded the definition of parenthood, which was desperately needed for former same-sex couples vying for parental rights.

The court’s ruling concerned the case of Brooke S.B and Elizabeth A.C.C. The ladies were engaged in 2007, and one year later, Elizabeth conceived a child via artificial insemination. Following their breakup in 2010, court documents indicated that Elizabeth no longer wanted her former partner to have any contact with their son, although Brooke had raised the child as her own up until that point.

And that’s when the legal battle began.

Brooke launched a custody lawsuit but the lower courts denied her parental rights. Even though Brooke co-parented the boy, cut his umbilical cord, and gave him her last name, the courts still deprived her of custody and visitation rights. The ruling relied on the “Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M.” case, indicating that there was no clear definition of a non-biological parent or caretaker.

Alan Feuer of the New York Times reported on the recent legal happenings.

“In its ruling on Tuesday, the appeals court overturned that earlier case, writing that ‘the definition of parent established by this court 25 years ago in Alison D. has become unworkable when applied to increasingly varied familial relationships.’” Feuer continued, “It further held that ‘where a partner shows by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive a child and to raise the child together, the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner has standing to seek visitation and custody.’”

The court went on to say that the “Matter of Alison D. v. Virginia M.” focused on heterosexual parenting, which is out of touch with today’s modern families, considering the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, as well as the rest of the nation.

The appellate court’s fresh stance was desperately needed. Referring to a case dating back 25 years, prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, places the LGBT community at a disadvantage in custody battles. This new ruling broadens the meaning of parenthood, helping put an end to doomsday court scenarios for non-biological parents.

Feuer indicated that Brooke’s attorney, Susan L. Sommer, stated that the State of New York was now brought, “into line with the mainstream in the United States in recognizing that children frequently have a second parent not related to them by blood, adoption or marriage.” She continued, “The state’s highest court is recognizing the diversity of New York families and reversing a bitter precedent that has kept children from their parents.”

Eric Wrubel, a practicing attorney, was present at the court hearing. He spoke of the child’s welfare in this special case. Following the ruling, he said that the appellate court, “…clearly see that the bright lines of biology and adoption just don’t fit today with marriage equality. They understand that couples and families these days are not just mom and dad, and husband and wife.”

Quite frankly, it’s time to challenge contradictory laws so equality can win.

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