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.
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.