The lawsuit has been filed in an Ontario court against Xytex Corp and Outreach Health and is seeking $15.4 million in damages for 'wrongful birth, failure to investigate and fraud'.
The complaint relates to a donor who was allegedly described as being healthy and working towards a PhD in neuroscience, but subsequent investigations by the families who used his sperm revealed that he was a man called Chris Aggeles, who had a history of schizophrenia, a previous conviction for burglary and was a college drop-out (reported in BioNews 797). It is alleged that Aggeles' sperm has been used to create 36 children in the USA, Canada and the UK.
According to the Huffington Post, the claim states that the donor had lied about his mental health history and education but that he was never questioned by anyone at Xytex.
'Instead of conducting an actual investigation into the claims made by [the donor], Xytex promoted [the donor] as one of their best donors,' the document said. 'Xytex promoted Aggeles as a man of high integrity who was extremely intelligent and incredibly educated.'
The allegations are yet to be proven in court. 'If proven, this takes the case from shocking to truly outrageous,' the families' lawyer, James Fireman, told the Toronto Star.
Xytex has previously denied any wrongdoing, saying that the donor reported a good health history and that one of the parties in the lawsuit was informed that the company does not verify information reported by the donors.
Ted Lavender, a lawyer for Xytex, told The Canadian Press: 'Pursuing claims in a court of law requires actual evidence and proof. Making unfounded allegations in the court of public opinion requires no actual proof at all, but merely the word of the very lawyers and litigants who already failed in a court of law.'
A claim for fraud, negligence and product liability brought in the USA last year by one of the families was thrown out by a judge after he declared it could not proceed under Georgian law as a 'wrongful birth' claim (see BioNews 826). An appeal of that decision was dismissed on procedural grounds, the Toronto Star reports.
Angie Collins, who was involved in the claim, has since sought to put pressure on the sperm-banking industry. 'Given the current state of affairs in the sperm-bank industry, it is strictly a matter of luck if a sperm donor is an upstanding and healthy individual, not a matter of testing, screening, regulating or legislating,' she said. 'Who would have thought that an industry that makes people would be like this?'
Her lawyer, Nancy Hersh, hailed Collins as a 'hero' for attempting to draw attention to the lack of oversight and insufficient screening in the donor-sperm industry. Canada imports much of its donor sperm from the USA.
'She is the Erin Brockovich of the sperm-bank set,' Hersh told the Toronto Star. 'She is very brave and courageous to be doing all of this to prevent these problems from happening to other people.'
Hersh has said that she intends to file further lawsuits in the USA on behalf of other affected American and British families within the next two months.