Brooklyn Professor Walks a Fine Line between Father and Donor

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

It seems as if everyone has read or heard the news by now: New York math professor fathers twenty-two children. Ari Nagel, 40, has served as a sperm donor who has helped lesbian couples and single women become moms. Ari Nagel

According to Doree Lewak of the New York Post, in the past twelve years, the 6-foot-2 New Yorker has helped eighteen women become mothers either through traditional intercourse, insemination without the use of a clinic, or by utilizing the services of a licensed physician.

“He often uses public bathrooms, like those at Target and at Starbucks shops, to procure his samples and hand them off to ovulating women.” Lewak writes. “His oldest child, now 12, was conceived with a woman he was in a committed relationship with, but all of his offspring since, he says, have resulted from his donations.”

Sperm donations can cost thousands, but Nagel is offering his services for free, making him an attractive option for many would-be mothers.

While his good looks, academic accomplishments, and high sperm count make him a glowing sperm donor candidate, intended parents should be wary before using this type of service because of the potential to complicate the issue of parental rights.

Nagel considers himself a sperm donor, but his actions could cause a court of law to view him as a father, with both the legal rights and obligations that title encompasses.

He tells Lewak, “I just love seeing how happy the moms and kids are . . . That’s why I do this,” he says. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Well, the gift of giving life has morphed into financial giving for Nagel as well. Five of the women he helped to become mothers have sued him for child support, resulting in the garnishment of half of his paycheck each month.

According to the reporter, Nagel’s Facebook page has photos of his children. Nagel also frequently babysits, and attends birthday parties and graduations. He’s also been on hand in the delivery room.

While the mothers have the ultimate say as to whether they want Nagel involved with their children (he sees some weekly, and others, he has never met), any involvement by Nagel may be perceived as establishing him as a father, rather than a sperm donor, particularly because Nagel never entered into contracts with the women using his sperm. Fatherhood carries financial implications, so it should be no surprise that these mothers’ requests for child support were granted. .

“They were all well aware there was no financial obligation on my part. They all promise in advance they won’t sue,” Nagel told the reporter.

However, the promise to not pursue a child support claim against a parent is legally unenforceable on public policy grounds, since financial support is considered the right of the child and not the right of the parent making the claim. While Nagel thinks he is only a sperm donor, donors must follow the laws in their state if they wish to remain classified as donors, and not parents. In many states, in order to be considered a sperm donor (and thus immune to child support claims), the donation must be done by a licensed physician in a medical setting — not in a residence or a Target bathroom.

In some of these cases, Nagel is potentially playing “dad” by babysitting and uploading photos of the children on social media, providing more evidence that he might legally be considered a father, rather than a donor.

Nagel’s actions resemble those of Hollywood star Jason Patric. Patric provided his sperm to an IVF clinic to allow his on-again off-again girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, to get pregnant. He was not listed as a parent on the child’s birth certificate, but he did sign consent forms at the IVF clinic. After his son was born, Patric held him out as his own, acting as a father. Ultimately, the family vacations and the fact that his son called him “daddy,” combined with Patric’s insistence that he had a substantive relationship with the child, allowed him to successfully pursue parentage rights.

For Nagel, his claim that he is a donor is thwarted by the content of some of the children’s birth certificates.

“Nagel says his name appears on the birth certificate for just under half of his offspring. Some take his surname, and there’s even an Ari Jr. and two Arias. A few families have used him multiple times,” the reporter writes.

Well, that pretty much “seals the deal” in terms of parentage, right?

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Concerns Mount Over Misuse of Sperm

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Fertility, Sperm Donation

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Dr. Peyman Saadat

A lawsuit recently filed against a West Hollywood fertility clinic in the Los Angeles Superior Court, is claiming damages from the mishandling of cryopreserved sperm tissue. The tissue belonged to Aaron Robertson, who died from the genetic disorder Marfan syndrome, at the age of 29. Robertson’s sperm was collected before his death. It was an attempt to give his widow, Sarah Robertson, the opportunity to one day build a family. Sadly and shockingly, the lawsuit alleges that the sperm was misused on other unsuspecting patients at the fertility clinic.

Now 40, Sarah is joined by Robertson’s parents, John and Karen, in the lawsuit, which names Reproductive Fertility Center, In Vitrotech Labs Inc., and Dr. Peyman Saadat.

Representing the Robertson family is attorney Andrew Vorzimer. Vorzimer described the scenario as “profoundly heartbreaking.”

It’s natural to wonder why Sarah would want to start a family knowing the risk that her children might be affected by Marfan syndrome.  The couple was actually “forward thinking,” and their goal was to start building their family when medical advances could prevent this genetic disorder from being passed on to their future children.

Despite their well-intentioned plans, things changed after Robertson went into a coma after suffering a severe stroke in 2004.

City News Service reports, “His wife and parents agreed to have a testicular sperm extraction procedure done so that his sperm and tissue could be preserved, allowing the 29-year-old dying man to continue his legacy despite his imminent and premature death, the suit states.” The report continues, “The plaintiffs say the tissue containing the sperm was placed in six vials and taken to the Tyler Medical Clinic in Beverly Hills for cryopreservation. Two days after Aaron Robertson’s death on June 1, 2004, his widow says she signed a storage agreement with Tyler Medical Clinic. But two years later, a storage invoice showed a different name and the Robertsons learned the sperm was being transferred to companies owned by Saadat, the suit says.”

The lawsuit goes on to say that Sarah was concerned about the safekeeping of the specimen, but was told that all would be fine.

It appears that wasn’t the case at all.

Years later, in 2014, Sarah contacted the Reproductive Fertility Center requesting that the six vials be transferred to UCLA Medical Center. With no intent to remarry, she was ready to start her fertility treatments using Robertson’s sperm.

“The clinic’s office manager said only one of the six vials could be accounted for and that she did not know what happened to the others, the suit alleges,” reports City News Service.

From here, the story begins to enter murky territory.

After Sarah demanded an inventory and search for the missing vials, she was told that the other vials may have been destroyed in a fire at Tyler Medical Center. However, that fire erupted in 2003, a year before Robertson’s sperm was retrieved.

“The plaintiffs believe that at the time Sarah Robertson was told about the fire, her husband’s tissue had actually been used on other women at the clinic without the permission of the Robertsons or the unsuspecting other patients,” the media publication cites from the lawsuit, noting how the clinic tried to convince Sarah Robertson to undergo fertility treatments at the clinic. Ultimately, the clinic admitted that the one remaining vial of Robertson’s sperm allegedly remaining was actually the sperm of a man with the same first name, but different last name.

In addition to the heartbreak they have sustained, the Robertson family is obviously worried for the welfare of “unsuspecting patients” who may have been impregnated with Robertson’s sperm. There is a potential that his offspring may have inherited his genetic disorder.

What this lawsuit alleges is incredibly troublesome on so many levels, both in regard to the woman who will never have the opportunity to bear her late husband’s children, and to the parents and children who may never have information concerning the children’s predisposition to genetic disease.

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IVF and Age: Challenging the Biological Clock

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Egg Donation, Infertility, IVF

Biological ClockAdvancements in the world of fertility medicine, in vitro fertilization and third-party reproduction have made us rethink the biological clock concept. Recently, the successful use of IVF technology allowed 72-year-old Daljinder Kaur, to give birth to her first child

In this day and age, individuals are no longer limited by what nature dictates. With the help of modern medicine, humans are dictating their own fertility limits now.

“I feel blessed to be able to hold my own baby. I had lost hope of becoming a mother ever,” said Daljinder Kaur in her interview with the Agence France Press.

It’s no surprise that most who heard this story were diametrically opposed to a woman of this age becoming a new mother. Moreover, it’s difficult to comprehend how a woman of this age could care for a child through all the challenges that parenthood brings. However, it’s not the first time that a woman in her seventies has reportedly given birth.

According to Angel LaLiberte, in her article, “Why Are We Against Later Motherhood?” in 2008, a 70-year-old woman from India, Rajo Devi Lohan, gave birth to twins following IVF treatments.

Details of the above birth appeared in a documentary, Pregnant at 70, on The Learning Channel in 2010. In addition to Lohan, the documentary also highlighted the stories of American Lauren Cohen, who had twins at 59, and Susan Tollefeson, of Great Britain, who gave birth at 59 after undergoing IVF in London.

LaLiberte writes, “Public criticism has characterized later life mothers as selfish, suggesting they’ve delayed motherhood for short-term personal gratification. Symbols of our hostility toward them can even be found online – granny-mom bashers who sell magnets and coffee cups that say, ‘Gee, I forgot to have a baby…’”

Why don’t these viewpoints transcend to men who have children later in life? Sir Elton John and his longtime partner, David Furnish, had babies born via surrogacy in 2010 and 2013. Sir Elton John recently celebrated his 69th birthday. In the media, he was lightly teased for being an older father.

Was the public more accepting because of his celebrity status or perhaps because Furnish is younger? It makes one wonder if parent age discrimination is another case of “double standards,” considered more acceptable when aimed at a woman.

LaLiberte shares, “Yet, while similar criticisms can be applied to older fathers, the public is strangely silent. For centuries, older men have been slapped on the back and given a congratulatory cigar for fertilizing a female.”  She added, “But, in recent years, the media has breathlessly reported that it appears that men, as well as women, have a biological fertility clock.”

LaLiberte is referring to medical studies highlighting scientific evidence of a possible “increased risk” of particular health issues, including autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, in children of older fathers.

The question, “Are you too old to have a baby?” is bound to evoke strong opinions on both sides of the coin. Should parenthood have an expiration date, and if so, what are the factors that play into that decision?

“In the midst of public melee and debate, it’s easy to lose sight of the prize,” LaLiberte wrote. “These mothers ‘of a certain age,’ who grow more numerous each day, are the forebears of our next generation, who will shape the world to come.”

Certainly, that’s an interesting point worthy of consideration and further examination.

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Chinese Lesbian Couple Achieves Historical Milestone

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, IVF, LGBT

Cai and WuTolerance of gay couples is moving in the right direction in China. Recently a Chinese lesbian couple welcomed twins through assisted reproduction. These women spoke to the media, liberating themselves from prejudicial restraints.

China lifted its 35-year-old one-child policy in January, allowing Chinese citizens to have two children. While only married heterosexual couples in China are allowed access to assisted reproduction services, lesbian couple Rui Cai and Cleo Wu took matters into their own hands.

According to Anthony Kuhn of NPR, Wu and Cai are one of the first lesbian Chinese couples to have used assisted reproduction to implant embryos created with one woman’s eggs in the other’s uterus.

Using Wu’s eggs and a sperm donor from the United States, two embryos were implanted in Cai at a fertility clinic in Portland, Oregon. The couple then returned to China, where their twins were born.

Cai explained the decision to deliver at a private hospital in Beijing, rather than a state-run hospital, stating, “What we wanted was a straightforward attitude and equality of service.  Somewhere where we didn’t have to explain everything or be met with discriminatory, judgmental looks.”

“The birth is seen as a sort of milestone in China, which has become a more tolerant place for gay couples over the past nearly four decades,” Kuhn reports. “However, same-sex couples are not allowed to marry in China, where policies and laws still favor traditional families. Only heterosexual, married couples are allowed to have children and, if needed, get access to reproductive services such as surrogacy.”

The article noted that Cai and Wu were more fortunate than most. They were educated in Great Britain and were able to journey overseas for assisted reproduction services. When they returned home, they could pay for private hospital accommodations.

And this is not the norm for LGBT community.

“To have families, they [LGBT] often resort to fake marriages and black market services, which are fraught with moral, financial and health risks,” Kuhn writes.

Cai and Wu have created a social media portal for other lesbian couples who want to have children. According to the article, the ladies chat about their experiences while giving advice, reviewing hospitals, and offering solutions to governmental obstacles, such as registering children with the authorities.

According to Kuhn, Cai and Wu may face bureaucratic hurdles in the future when it’s time to register their children for government ID cards or school.

However, knowing how empowered and determined these ladies are, they should find a way to resolve these matters.

The article explained how the couple tackled one of their largest hurdles: the acceptance of their parents, part of a Chinese generation that believes homosexuality is something fearful.

In China, children and grandchildren must take care of their elders.

“They think it’s OK for us to choose this homosexual lifestyle,” said Cai in the article. “But we’ve got to have offspring. It’s a compromise or a precondition we must meet for them to accept our lifestyle.”

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Missouri Bill Attempts to Assign Personhood to Embryos

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility

Every time “human embryo rights” becomes a topic of discussion, it reignites an ethical debate as to whether embryos should be considered persons, property, or should be placed in an “in between” category.8100430194_5dda4c2644_z

A Missouri bill is aiming to provide legal guidelines to be used in frozen embryo disputes. It’s moving through the state’s legislature right now, having been approved by the Missouri House and awaiting a vote by the Senate.

House Bill 2258 is synonymous with Jalesia McQueen, 44, an immigration attorney who helped write the bill. McQueen started this movement after losing an embryo custody battle with her ex-husband. Although she had twin sons during her marriage, the fate of two embryos created with McQueen’s ex-husband remains in limbo.

Despite McQueen’s best efforts, if the Senate approves the bill, reproductive rights in the state, and perhaps across the nation, could be in jeopardy.

According to Jezebel.com reporter Stassa Edwards, the Missouri Bill is co-sponsored by Missouri Right to Life along with other pro-life activist groups.

The bill mandates that Missouri judges should rule, “…in the manner that provides the best chances for the in vitro human embryo to develop and grow.” Edwards added, “In short, judges would be barred from ordering the destruction of an embryo and embryos would be given to whichever parent/donor wants to either preserve or implant those embryos. The bill has exceptions for child support and allows the court to terminate the parental rights of the opposing donor (meaning, the opposing parent/donor is off the hook both legally and financially).”

When couples divorce, the process includes the division of assets and child custody determinations. In light of advanced third-party reproduction techniques, embryo reconciliation is now part of the equation.

Many voice concerns that embryos should not be viewed as “property.”

Although IVF clinics have their patients sign consent forms, including choices for embryo disposition in the event of a couple’s divorce or death, these contracts have been contested. The court rulings which have followed have varied considerably.

“…many of the contracts have not held up in court; either parents change their mind or judges throw the contracts out, preferring what’s called a ‘balance approach,’ where the judge attempts to weigh the preferences and rights of both individuals. The result is a horde of conflicting case law,” Edwards writes.

While the Missouri bill tries to resolve such conflict, it overlooks as ethical dilemma: whether a person should be forced into biological parenthood against his or her wishes.

“The law essentially attempts to sidestep the ethical and legal questions of compelling another person to be a biological parent against their will, ironically treating the objections of a potential parent as little more than a financial question,” Edwards writes. She added, “More controversially, the bill compels a judge to treat an embryo as a life, effectively positioning personhood at the moment of fertilization.”

As one can imagine, the opposition to this bill has come out in droves. While some may admire McQueen’s passion in “righting” her personal legal matter, if this bill gets sanctioned, it could trigger a ripple effect of repercussions.

In BuzzFeed.com, Azeen Ghorayshi crafted an in-depth article about the bill in tandem with a profile of McQueen. She points out that the bill’s most provocative words are undoubtedly:

“…in the best interest of the in vitro human embryo.”

Ghorayshi interviewed family law attorney, Carla Holsty, about this percolating text.

“There have been reams of decisions from the Supreme Court about what is life,” Holsty tells Buzz Feed. She continues, “This flies in the face of that.”

Well said.

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Sperm Donation Protocol Questioned

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility, IVF, Sperm Donation

A recent lawsuit aimed at Xytex, a Georgia sperm bank that allegedly allowed a donor who was a convicted felon with schizophrenia to father 36 children, has triggered an inquiry into how such gross negligence can be avoided in the future. The donor, James Christian Aggeles, boasted an impressive donor profile, highlighting his exceptional IQ of 160, his status as a PhD student in neuroscience engineering, and his healthy lifestyle free of any medical concerns.Sperm donor

While he admitted that his father is color blind, it wasn’t revealed to intended parents that Aggeles suffered from heritable mental health conditions with the potential to negatively impact his offspring.

Egg donors in the United States undergo a rigorous background and health screening before being accepted into an egg donation program. Why aren’t these high standards applied to sperm donors?

Women are scrutinized during the donation process, whereas sperm banks typically take the donor’s word regarding his personal and family history.

Wendy Kramer wrote a piece for Time entitled, Sperm Donation Needs Federal Regulation. She used the Xytex lawsuit as the crux of her argument.

“This case highlights the lack of regulation and oversight in the sperm donor industry. These parents only learned of the donor’s past by connecting with other families on the Donor Sibling Registry, of which I am the director, and on Xytex’s own website. How long will we continue to see the repercussions of an industry that exhibits a lack of accountability, ethics and responsibility that we would normally expect in any other medical arena?” Kramer writes.

According to Kramer, the Donor Sibling Registry helps counsel children who have inherited a genetic disease which was linked back to their sperm donor. In these cases, donors may have been dishonest about their medical history from the very start, the sperm banks may not have done their due diligence in performing the donor’s medical and background screening, or the sperm bank did not contact recipients when the donor noted a significant change in his medical history.

Kramer describes the above episodes as happening all too frequently.

“The number and severity of these incidences is discomfiting. Families clearly need to be warned about possible hereditary disorders,” she writes. Kramer added, “Since donors can father many offspring, donors can potentially transmit disease to scores of children.”

A survey conducted by the Donor Sibling Registry revealed that a sobering 84 percent of sperm donors were “never contacted” by their sperm bank for any medical updates.

“Too often the medical profile of a sperm donor is merely a snapshot of one day in the life of a healthy young man. It often doesn’t reveal what will happen five or 10 years down the road to the donor or to members of his immediate family,” Kramer writes.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidelines that sperm banks should test their donors for STD’s as well as a few other diseases, in no way does this level of testing mirror what an egg donor must undergo.

In Aggeles’ case, a simple background check would have revealed his criminal record and the fact that he had not graduated from college graduation.

Kramer calls this an international issue, with sperm banks often shipping donations around the globe. She advises that sperm banks should employ more effective record keeping, including seeking medical updates from donors, that they should cap the number of offspring conceived from any one donor, and that they should mandate a battery of medical and psychological testing.

Something needs to change, so that unsuspecting recipient parents and their children are not blindsided by devastating physical or mental illness caused by such a lax screening process for sperm donors.

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Infertility: The Importance of Education and Empowerment

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Fertility, Infertility

For those who have endured the emotional heartache of infertility or know a couple who has fought courageously, National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) is a time to take pause, reflect, and educate. This past week was invaluable because one out of eight American heterosexual couples experience infertility issues.

Internationally, the statistics are even more sobering.stimulation_of_ovaries

While the topic of infertility was brought to the forefront this past week, so was the issue of empowering women to understand their own fertility. Dr. Allison Rodgers, a fertility specialist, wrote an engaging article about women in Chicago Now.

The premise: When should women learn about their fertility?

In her article, she highlighted how a close college friend, who has a successful career, told her that she intended to conceive her first child at 35 years of age and thought her eggs would still be of high enough quality and that all would turn out just fine. Fortunately for her, it did.

However, Dr. Rodgers struggled with her own infertility.

“I think as a society, we are very good about teaching girls when they are fertile, when they can get pregnant and how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Most of us spend most of our sexually active lives trying to avoid sperm and getting pregnant,” Dr. Rodgers wrote. She added, “This week is National Infertility Awareness Week, but I think the real focus should be on fertility awareness as well. Women of all childbearing ages can be empowered by learning about their personal fertility and decide their family planning choices accordingly.”

The Fertility Centers of Illinois surveyed 1,208 American women ranging from 25-45 who did not have children. Of those surveyed, 79% thought fertility should be a topic in sex education while 89% believed it should be discussed with their OB/GYN.

Dr. Rodgers did not see the relevancy in teaching young girls in school about their “fertility choices” and how fertility declines when a woman reaches her thirtysomething years.  Also, routine doctor’s visits are so hurried these days that the opportunity to really chat with a doctor about fertility may not be so realistic.

Rather, Dr. Rodgers thought the ideal time for teaching women how to understand their own fertility would be after high school.

“Seems like college would be a great time, and I hope that with all the attention in the media to egg freezing, more and more young women are thinking about taking control of their fertility and understanding their options to protect their future,” she said. “It’s important to understand the menstrual cycle, when are your highest chances of getting pregnant, what warning signs to look for and when to seek help.”

The message Dr. Rodgers has delivered is exceptional.

National Infertility Awareness Week is important and critical to those struggling with their fertility, but keep in mind that those who struggle do so every week of the year. Let’s #StartAsking all year.

For more information please visit www.Resolve.org.

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