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They Thought They Chose A Perfect Sperm Donor, But Everything About Him Was a Lie

Photograph by Twenty20

Several families have filed lawsuits against a Georgia sperm bank after discovering their donor had a history of mental illness and a criminal record, among other details, and that the bank misled the couples about the donor’s history.

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Really, it seems, it’s that the bank didn’t do anything at all to verify any of the information the donor gave about his health, education, and other history for his donor profile. The families are seeking about $3 million each. But some are asking if it's the clinic's responsibility to check all the facts, or do parents of donor-conceived children need to be the ones doing the digging before committing? The parents who conceived children with the donor's sperm in this case believe it is the clinic's responsibility when the donor is anonymous.

Like many same-sex couples wanting to start a family, Angela Collins and Elizabeth Hanson of Toronto turned to a sperm bank and carefully chose a donor with the qualities, physical and otherwise, that they considered to be ideal.

But nearly seven years after their son was born, they made a sickening discovery.

The company had launched their version of a donor sibling registry, and when Collins joined, she found not only siblings who had the same donor as her son, but information about the donor too. The company accidentally revealed the donor's email address, which set Collins and others off on a wild ride of researching everything they could about the man they had previously only known as Donor 9623. And as it turns out, the man was not at all who they thought he was.

Collins said in an interview with CBC Radio that she and her partner believed they were choosing a healthy donor, but instead they ended up with one who had a history of schizophrenia, had been in jail, and also lied about his education. She said when they found out the news, they were in a panic, hoping what they'd just learned was inaccurate. They thought there must be another person with the same name, and their actual donor was someone else.

In a phone interview with the New York Times, Collins’ attorney Nancy Hersh said at least a dozen American, Canadian and British families are planning lawsuits related to the same sperm donor. Known as Donor 9623, Hersh represents 15 of the 27 families who have conceived children using his sperm. Her clients account for 23 of the 36 children that are known to be conceived by his sperm donations.

After learning the truth about their donor, Collins and Hanson tried to sue the Georgia sperm bank, but their lawsuit was dismissed because the state does not litigate wrongful birth cases. They appealed and were dismissed again, but now they're launching a new lawsuit with Hersh at the helm. Nothing can change the fact that their son is genetically linked to mental illness at this point, but what Collins hopes to get from the lawsuit is accountability for the situation she and other families were put in after choosing a donor that looked perfect on paper. The families hope to potentially get a medical monitoring fund established for all the children, whether they show symptoms of mental illness currently, in the future, or for preventative measures to ward off mental illness before it might become an issue.

And what about the man known as Donor 9623? He's been on the straight and narrow after his previously unsavory experiences; Collins said he has since gotten the college degree he originally lied about in his donor profile, gotten married and had a family of his own.

"My heart goes out to him,” Angela Collins told CBC Radio. "Poor choice, though, to knowingly donate sperm when you contain genetic material for debilitating illnesses. But he wasn’t healthy at the time that he was making these decisions. And there needs to be measures in place by these companies to make sure that the people coming through the door are safe options for donor-conceived children."

Asked if she’d allow her son to meet the donor if he someday asks, Collins said she would still get on a plane a take him there if the donor was open to it. She just hopes more families like hers can avoid this kind of situation in the future and that sperm banks will be held more accountable for due diligence before accepting donors who might be ill or have undesirable genetic traits.

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