Schizophrenic Sperm Donor Case Back in the News

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Sperm Donation

A shocking story made headlines last year, putting all those who have used or have thought about using an anonymous sperm donor on edge. James Christian Aggeles, a sperm donor for the Georgia sperm bank Xytex, provided fabricated information about himself.Sperm

His profile, “Donor 9623,” lured 26 families into using his sperm to complete their families, from which 36 children were born. Donor 9623 attracted so many parents because of his resume of impressive accomplishments: he was completing his PhD in neuroscience engineering, was in tiptop shape, boasted an IQ of 160, and had no history of family disease except for his father’s color blindness.

However, the real background of Donor 9623 could not have been further from the truth. Sadly, Aggeles, 39, was a convicted felon, never graduated from college, and suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

This alarming discovery was made by Canadian residents Angela Collins and Margaret Elizabeth Hanson, who used Donor 9623 to help conceive their son back in 2007. They learned the truth after Xytex inadvertently sent them e-mail correspondences about their donor which included his name.

Following some internet investigation, the couple realized that they had been misled and deceived. Serious concerns about the well-being of their child ensued.

“It was like a dream turned nightmare in an instant,” said Collins in an interview with the Toronto Star.

The couple sued Xytex last year, but the case was dismissed by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, because it was based on a “wrongful birth” cause of action.

Last October, CBS News reported, “Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney wrote in an order filed Tuesday that while the lawsuit makes allegations including fraud, negligence and product liability, each claim is ‘rooted in the concept of wrongful birth,’ which isn’t recognized under Georgia law.” The article continued with the judge’s order, “The concept of ‘wrongful birth’ arises when parents claim they would not have gone forward with a birth if they had been fully informed of a fetus’ condition.”

However, Collins and Hanson are determined in their pursuit of justice. They have refiled their case, which legal professionals expect will explore alternative theories of liability.

In the latest case to be filed, Collins and Hanson may not be fighting the battle alone. The New York Daily News reports that the couples’ San Francisco-based lawyer, Nancy Hersh, is representing 15 other clients living in the United States and Great Britain who may join the suit against Xytex.

The current lawsuit also elaborates that Aggeles was a donor from 2000 to 2014 and has helped conceive children ranging in age from toddlers to 12.

Last year, Collins and Hanson voiced concerns in their lawsuit stating that while their son is healthy today, he will need to be regularly evaluated for any symptoms of schizophrenia. According to medical professionals, symptoms generally manifest between ages 16 and 30.

In the same CBS News story reported last year, “The couple [Collins and Hanson] wants a medical monitoring fund established for the estimated three dozen children of the donor so they can be tested and treated, if necessary.”

Establishing a medical fund would be an excellent idea. Sperm banks, however, need to establish best practices and confirm information provided by their donors. It’s what reputable egg donor agencies have been doing for years. A simple phone call, email or letter would have confirmed that this donor never graduated from college. That that was never done, is appalling, considering this company was helping families create children. Consequences of this magnitude are unacceptable, and it should be more difficult for potential donors to lie and make it through the screening process.

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Lesbian Couples Fighting for Right to be Named on Birth Certificates

Posted by in LGBT

Last December, Indiana was pulled into the spotlight when two married lesbian couples sued the state’s health commissioner and other government officials for not allowing the names of both mothers to be placed on their babies’ birth certificates absent an adoption. The women claim a violation of their Fourth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees. The lawsuit is making some noise and is getting the notice it deserves. Other states have heard similar cases in the wake of the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage. While the Court ruled firmly on the issue of marriage, issues related to parentage and other ancillary rights were left on the table and have been decided on a state-by-state basis where same-sex couples have taken legal action.

A coarse rope in the colors of the homosexual flag with a knot tied in the middle on an isolated background

For example, female spouses can now be listed on their child’s birth certificate in Utah, Kansas, and Iowa. Lambda Legal, an LBGT rights group, stated that lawsuits of this nature are also occurring in North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Since the December coverage in Pride Source, six additional married lesbian couples have joined in the Indiana lawsuit and are being represented by Karen Celestino-Horseman.

Tom Davies of the Associated Press wrote, “A federal judge in Indianapolis heard arguments over whether state law wrongly forces the spouse who didn’t give birth to go through a costly adoption process to be legally recognized as the child’s parent – something a husband in a heterosexual marriage is routinely granted. The couples want state officials to treat married lesbian couples the same as heterosexual couples who have used artificial insemination to have children.”

According to the coverage, the state attorney general’s office maintains that the Indiana law is fair since parental rights can be established through either a biological relationship to the child or through an adoption.

Plaintiffs in the case include Jackie and Lisa Phillips-Stackman. These women were married on Oct. 5, 2015, and have a baby girl who was born weeks later. While Lisa carried the baby, the embryo was created with Jackie’s egg and sperm from a donor.  While Lisa has no genetic tie to their daughter, she is listed on the birth certificate and Jackie is not. Under Indiana law, Jackie must adopt her own biological child.

“The thought of having to adopt my own child just rubbed me wrong, especially with all the planning we had done. It’s offensive,” Jackie Phillips-Stackman told The Indianapolis Star.

The Stackman family certainly isn’t alone with their viewpoint. Many find this unfair and patently discriminatory against same-sex couples.

Their attorney, Celestino-Horeseman, explained that a heterosexual couple who uses a sperm donor to conceive their child doesn’t have these issues. The husband, who has no biological link to the baby, is placed on the birth certificate with no adoption or other further steps required.

Same-sex married couples are not afforded these same rights. Instead, the spouse who did not carry the child must undergo a costly adoption procedure in order to be legally recognized as a parent.

“Children of lesbian couples leave the hospital with only one parent, with the other woman not legally able to make medical decisions for the child or take actions such as school registration,” the attorney told reporters.  She continued, “They carry documents with them that say if anything happens to the birth mother that they have power of attorney to act on behalf of that child but they can’t get things like passports showing both their names.”

This type of mindset underscores inequality and the courts have some catching up to do. Many are anxiously waiting for U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt to make her decision and are hoping that Indiana falls in line with other states who have decided the issue of parentage favorably for same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality.

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New Zealand Dads Desperate to Bring Their “Triplings” Home from Mexico

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Egg Donation, LGBT, Surrogacy

In a short video clip that has gone viral, David and Nicky Beard’s “triplings” are shown relaxing on their backs on a large bed in between their fathers, who are looking at them adoringly. The husbands used two surrogates from Mexico to achieve their dream of having a family. The twins, Blake and Kelly, were carried by one surrogate, and the other delivered their singleton, Lachlan.

Courtesy stuff.co.nz

Courtesy stuff.co.nz

David Beard, 41, is the biological father of the babies; his sperm were used to fertilize eggs from an Argentinian egg donor. The babies were born in early March 2016, and the Beard family is still in Mexico.

Overseas surrogacy in locations such as India, Thailand, and Mexico has been successful for foreign individuals and couples. However, these cases can be fraught with difficulties that shed light on the glaring differences  between these nations and the United States.

Lachlan arrived prematurely, requiring neonatal intensive care, and his parents made the decision to have him airlifted to a hospital that could better meet his medical needs. Due to the mounting hospital bills associated with his care and the care of his siblings, the Kiwi couple is now $280,000 in debt. Reporters Jonathan Milne, Nicole Lawton, and Anna Burns-Francis collaborated on a recent article published by Stuff.

They wrote, “The couple desperately wanted to get their children home from Villahermosa, where they said they were born among cockroaches and in other unhygienic hospital conditions. They were pleading for help from friends and family around the world but, most of all, from the New Zealand and Mexican governments.”

These intended fathers live in New Zealand and are used to healthcare in a developed country, with all its accoutrements, and were probably terrified for the well-being of their babies.

It’s imperative that intended parents understand that there is a reason why surrogacy agencies in developing countries can charge less. The medical care is generally not on par with that of first world countries.

Even with that said, the director of Surrogacy Cancun, Alice Torres, is fighting back and refuting the claims regarding the hospital conditions at the clinic in Mexico recommended by her agency.

In a different Stuff article, she also told the reporters that the medical costs increased because Lachlan was on life support for a total of 14 days. The reporters went on to write, “…she said the Beards then made the decision to use a hospital not endorsed by her agency.”

Torres also shared that the surrogacy contract underscores that intended parents are responsible for any costs arising from birth complications.

“As far as additional funds to cover his premature birth, it is listed in his contract, as part of his responsibility. He [David] has known this all along,” Torres told the media.

The couple shared that a month before their children’s births and after their final payment was drawn from their escrow account, they were “abandoned” by their agency manager.

David and his husband Nicky, 31, have hired an attorney specializing in family law to help them get their babies home.

The couple is also making a plea to Michael Woodhouse, New Zealand’s immigration minister, for intervention. They are asking that the babies receive passports issued by the New Zealand Embassy in Mexico City, a much less cumbersome process than requesting Mexican passports for infants with no biological ties to Mexico.

Reporters were able to reach The Ministry of Social Development in New Zealand, which said that the government was familiar with the case and had offered some information to the Beard family.

“Their situation is typical of many international surrogacy cases. They can be highly complicated, involving other countries’ laws and procedures and involve a high degree of uncertainty,” she said. The government of New Zealand intends to focus its efforts on the adoption of the children by Nicky Bread, the non-biological parent, after the family returns home.

The couple hopes they will be home by next month. We all hope that this is the case for them as well.

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Battle over Parental Rights Plagues Schnitzer

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Egg Donation, Surrogacy

The name “Jordan Schnitzer” is synonymous with a robust financial portfolio punctuated by a history of generous philanthropy. While many might agree that Portland-based Schnitzer had it all, the one thing he felt he was lacking was a son.Blue baby shoes

With the medical advances of third-party reproduction, however, Schnitzer, 64, was able to complete his family.

A gestational surrogate carried his son and delivered him on Dec. 22, 2015.

Unfortunately for Schnitzer, the woman he chose to be his egg donor is a former girlfriend who also wants to be a legal parent.

The eggs were harvested from Cory Sause, 37, who is also a prominent figure in Oregon coming from an Oregon business empire. According to the Willamette Week, Schnitzer and Sause were in a relationship beginning in January 2014. By the time of the boy’s birth, however, their relationship had already ended.

Schnitzer thought he had safeguarded his rights as the sole parent of any son born from the embryos created with his and Sause’s genetic material. The contract between the parties delineated parental rights based on the sex of the embryo, stating in regard to a female “Schnitzer hereby relinquishes any claim to or jurisdiction over any female embryos from Sause and any resulting female offspring.” Sause relinquished her rights to any male embryo, but it was not specifically stated that the renouncement of rights also applied to any male offspring.

The process of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis was utilized to determine the sex of the embryo.

While Schnitzer made it quite clear he only wanted male embryos, Sause indicated she did not want the female embryos destroyed and wished to have them stored for the future.

Reporter Nigel Jaquiss writes, “Bob Barton, one of Sause’s attorneys, argues that in the contract prepared by Schnitzer’s attorney, Schnitzer renounced any involvement with any female ‘offspring,’ but that Sause made no such concession about a son.” He added, “Barton says Sause acknowledged Schnitzer’s sole custody of a male baby—but did not renounce either her parentage or visitation rights.”

According to Jaquiss, Schnitzer’s attorney maintains that Sause’s claims are without merit.

Jaquiss goes on to report, “On March 3 [2016], that dream turned into a nightmare when Sause challenged him [Schnitzer] in Multnomah County Circuit Court, saying he was violating their contract by denying her parentage of their son.” He added, “For Sause, it’s the desire to be a mother to a child whose genes are half hers. For Schnitzer, who already has two daughters, the imperative is to have a son he can raise without interference and who can carry on his family name.”

Obviously, there is no question that Sause is genetically linked to this baby boy.

Sause’s court filings also include a series of text updates from Schnitzer regarding the progress of their surrogate’s pregnancy.

Willamette Week published a text Schnitzer sent to Sause in May 2015 which read, “Very soon, we will know whether you are going to be a mom. This is our baby.”

In the filing, it was also stated that after the baby was born, Sause went to the hospital to visit him.

Jaquiss wrote, “That same day, Dec. 22, Schnitzer filed a petition in Multnomah County Circuit Court saying he was the baby’s sole parent.” He added, “Sause says when she learned that her name wasn’t on the birth certificate, she was ‘shocked,’ and further dismayed that Schnitzer went to court and obtained a judgment certifying that he was the sole genetic parent.”

Sause sought legal counsel after realizing she was not recognized as the child’s legal parent and would have no visitation rights. In Sause’s March 3 filing she stated, “It was always my intention to be the biological mother of any child that resulted from our embryos.”

A judge will hear this emotionally charged case on April 4, 2016.

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Gay Couple’s Fight in Thailand To Bring their Surrogate Baby Home

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility, LGBT, Surrogacy

For more than a year, Gordon Lake and Manuel Santos have been fighting to bring their baby Carmen home, who was born to a surrogate in Thailand., The couple are hoping that their legal battle will end on March 31, 2016 and they will finally be able to leave Thailand with their daughter. The Thai surrogate hired to carry Lake and Santos’ baby refused to sign the final documents that would allow the couple to leave the country after she discovered the couple was gay.

Gordon “Bud” Lake and his husband are unable to take their daughter, Carmen Santos Lake, third from left, out of Thailand because her surrogate mother objects to the fact she will be raised by a same-sex couple. (Photo courtesy of Gordon Lake)

Gordon “Bud” Lake and his husband are unable to take their daughter, Carmen Santos Lake, third from left, out of Thailand because her surrogate mother objects to the fact she will be raised by a same-sex couple. (Photo courtesy of Gordon Lake)

Complicating the issues even more, Thailand banned commercial surrogacy last year, and does not recognize gay marriage.

Unable to receive a passport for their baby girl, Lake and Santos have been in Thailand since their baby was born last January. Lake is American and Santos is a Spaniard. The couple lives in Spain.

With the help of a crowdfunding account which reached $36,000, Lake and Santos have been able to remain in Thailand with their daughter. The monies have also contributed to their attorney and court costs.

Lake is Carmen’s biological father, his sperm having been used to fertilize eggs from an anonymous donor. Their surrogate, Patidta Kusolsang, has no genetic link to Carmen. However, Thai law dictates that the birth mother is the mother of the child. Although Kusolsang gave Carmen to her fathers after birth and allowed the two men to take Carmen from the hospital, she ultimately decided not to sign the documents required for them to obtain a passport for Carmen to leave Thailand because she didn’t want the baby to be raised by gay men.

According to the Associated Press, reporter Ying Panyapon writes, “Lake has said he doesn’t know why the surrogate says she didn’t know he was gay. He says he was clear about that from the start with their surrogacy agency, called New Life, which has branches in several countries.”

In Thailand, New Life’s Bangkok headquarters officially closed its doors in July 2015,  when commercial surrogacy was deemed illegal. However, government officials have provided a grace period for intended parents who were already engaged in the surrogacy process.

Lake, 41, said that he hopes the judge hearing their case is sympathetic to their plea on all counts.

Lake told the media, “It was always known it was a surrogacy agreement. We’re the intended parents. We’re the people that wanted to have a child.” He added, “We just want to go home and we just want to be a family — a normal boring family.”

Living with her fathers since she was born, Carmen is now 14 months old.

Outside the Bangkok’s Juvenile and Family Court, Lake told everyone, “It’s the day we’ve been waiting for — for a long, long time. Today is one of the most important days of our lives. The court should give us custody of Carmen because it’s the right thing to do.”

Lake and Santos’ attorney, Rachapol Sirikulchit, also chimed in after the court hearing, saying that he was confident that custody of Carmen would be granted to his clients.

“Baby Carmen has the right to be with her biological father, who supports her financially and has cared for her since she was born,” he said.

Hopefully, Carmen will receive her passport, and the family can journey home to Spain.

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Legal Arguments Become Heated in Same-Sex Guardianship Case

Posted by in Assisted Reproduction, Infertility, IVF, LGBT

Child custody cases create passionate courtroom battles. In Michigan, a Monroe County Court judge is hearing a case that could give some clarity as to the legal parameters of parenthood in custody cases involving children born to same-sex parents before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.  In the courtroom is a lesbian former couple, Jessica Zunk and Carin Hopps, who built their family with the assistance of in vitro fertilization (IVF).Zunk

Their daughter is seven and their son is five years old.

Hopps, 47, is a medical doctor who used her own eggs and sperm from a donor to conceive their daughter. For the birth of their son, however, both an egg donor and sperm donor were used, though Hopps carried and delivered the baby.

Her former partner, Jennifer Zunk, 51, is a teacher who performed many of the family duties including childcare, driving the children to school, taking them to doctors’ appointments and much more.

According to court documents, Zunk was granted limited guardianship of the children in 2011. Hopps wants to terminate this since the couple is no longer in a relationship.

Oralander Brand-Williams, a reporter for the Detroit News, wrote that Zunk’s attorney, Dana Nessel, questioned the issue of the son’s parentage asking, “How is Carin any more a parent to the couple’s son than Jennifer is when the Michigan Child Custody Act requires a person to be a parent either though nature (biology) or adoption? Neither woman has a biological relationship to that child, nor has either woman adopted him.” She went on to say, “Hence, under the law as it currently stands, the boy has no parents. If the court terminates the guardianship of Jennifer today, the boy has no parent and, therefore, becomes a ward of the state.”

And that, quite frankly, is an excellent argument.

This case, especially in relation to the son, raises the important question of parentage for those in non-marital relationships who have no biological link to their children, particularly for couples co-parenting before the historic U.S. Supreme Court judgment made gay marriage legal in the United States last summer.

Both women were mothers to their children, with Zunk known to the children as “Teacher Mom” and Hopps known as “Doctor Mom.”

Brand-Williams reported, “The couple decided to end their relationship in October 2014 although they lived together until the following February.” She continued, “Hopps filed court papers to terminate Zunk’s guardianship of both of the children in January. A month later, Zunk filed a complaint seeking joint legal and physical custody of the children as well as parenting time and child support.”

The next hearing is on the docket for May. The judge will be listening to arguments from both sides and may quickly arrive at a decision.

As the reporter noted, legal experts are declaring this case incredibly important due to the fact that parentage issues for same sex couples and their children born prior to the legalization of gay marriage is unsettled.

Nessel describes the case as one that is treading in “uncharted territory.”

She told the judge at the last hearing, “How can you deny a finding of equitable parenthood to our client when, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, they were unconstitutionally denied the right to marry?”

Nessel was also quick to point out how this legal issue also transcends to heterosexual couples. There may be unmarried couples in committed relationships who have undergone third-party reproduction and whose co-parenting rights could be compromised because there is no “law on the books” addressing the parentage rights of individuals in this category.

Legal experts are hoping that the Michigan Legislature puts some teeth in their child custody laws to protect children conceived through third-party reproduction to unmarried parents. In this new family building era, where parentage can be defined beyond biology, the law needs to make strides to protect the rights of those who cannot rely on their marital status as a safeguard.

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Supreme Court Issues Groundbreaking Judgment on Full Faith & Credit Clause

Posted by in LGBT, Uncategorized

supremecourt1picThe Supreme Court recently granted judgment in an adoption case that strengthened the effect of the Full Faith & Credit Clause. The Court reversed the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision not to recognize a same-sex adoption decree issued in Georgia, ruling that because the decree was issued on proper jurisdictional grounds, the United States Constitution mandates that the judgment be recognized by Alabama.

The parties, E.L. and V.L., as referred to in the court documents, raised three children born to E.L. during their relationship. Although the couple never married, V.L. legally adopted the children in Georgia, where the couple was renting a home.

When their relationship dissolved, however, the women were living in Alabama. Since that time, V.L. has been fighting to have Alabama recognize her as the children’s legal mother, consistent with her Georgia court order.

Reporter Richard Wolf of USA Today wrote, “Now that they have split, E.L. agreed with the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled in September that Georgia mistakenly granted V.L. joint custody. E.L.’s lawyers argued that ‘the Georgia court had no authority under Georgia law to award such an adoption, which is therefore void and not entitled to full faith and credit.’”

However, that appeared to be presumptuous.

Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution contains the Full Faith and Credit clause, which obliges states to recognize the “public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.”

The Supreme Court explained the breadth of the Clause, noting that, “A State may not disregard the judgment of a sister State because it disagrees with the reasoning underlying the judgment or deems it to be wrong on the merits.  On the contrary, ‘the full faith and credit clause’ of the Constitution precludes any inquiry into the merits of the cause of action, the logic or consistency of the decision, or the validity of the legal principles on which the judgment is based.” (citing Milliken v. Meyer, 311 U. S. 457, 462 (1940)).

The Full Faith and Credit clause benefits V.L. and others by ensuring that their parental rights are recognized not only in the state where the original judgment was issued, but also across the nation as a whole.

The Supreme Court also stated, “The Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there is no established Georgia law to the contrary.  It follows that the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit.”

Obviously, V.L.’s attorneys were thrilled with the Court’s ruling, as was the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“The Supreme Court’s reversal of Alabama’s unprecedented decision to void an adoption from another state is a victory not only for our client but for thousands of adopted families,” said Cathy Sakimura, the Center’s family law director in a statement.  “No adoptive parent or child should have to face the uncertainty and loss of being separated years after their adoption just because another state’s court disagrees with the law that was applied in their adoption.”

In the USA Today article, Wolf mentioned that lawyers for V.L. argued that same-sex adoptions were granted since the 1980s, decades before same-sex marriage became legal.

According to data from the Williams Institute at UCLA, Wolf indicated that around 65,000 adoptive children reside with a gay or lesbian parent.

This groundbreaking Supreme Court Ruling will serve as precedent for other similar cases which may follow, and its effects might be seen in the realm of parental establishment in surrogacy cases as well.

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