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US sperm donor admits he misled sperm bank

5 September 2016
Appeared in BioNews 867

A US man who fathered more than 30 children by sperm donation has reportedly admitted that he lied about his background to a sperm bank, which is currently being sued by the parents of one of the children conceived with his sperm.

CTV News reports that James Christian Aggeles attempted to turn himself in to the police in Athens-Clarke County in the US state of Georgia. 'I was contacted about a male in the police parking lot that said he had committed a fraud', wrote Detective Brigitte Menzel in her report of the incident. 'He informed me that he had falsified paperwork for a sperm bank, Xytex.'

Aggeles told the officer that he was 'not truthful' about his degree status and other information provided to the US sperm bank. The officer refused to arrest him, however, explaining that the police needed to verify his claims. 'Aggeles said that I could "Google" his name and there would be ample information available,' Menzel wrote.

A Canadian couple is currently suing Xytex and others over claims that Aggeles's sperm, used to conceive their child, was described as being from a donor who was healthy and working towards a PhD in neuroscience. However, the couple claim that Aggeles is in fact a 'college drop out' with a criminal record and a history of schizophrenia (reported in BioNews 847 and 797).

The lawyer representing the couple, Nancy Hersh, claims that 'at least 36 offspring are at risk for psychosis'. However, the Guardian points out that although some studies have identified a combination of genes associated with schizophrenia, the interaction remains complex – and that the disorder remains influenced by environmental and social factors.

'There are likely to be thousands of inherited variants that control risk of schizophrenia. Each change slightly increases or decreases our risk, but none of them alone will enable us to predict whether someone is likely to develop schizophrenia', Cathryn Lewis, professor of genetic epidemiology and statistics at King's College London told the Guardian. 'Testing one gene tells us nothing about an individual's risk of developing schizophrenia.'

The North American case also raises questions about the extent which potential donors are screened before they donate. Xytex maintains that Aggeles underwent a standard medical examination but that he did not disclose any issues with his health. It says the couple was told that the company does not corroborate personal information provided by donors, but the lawsuit contends that Xytex did not do enough to investigate the donor's claims.

Canadian fertility doctor, Dr Arthur Leader has called for the implementation of stricter rules regarding sperm donation and the use of imported sperm in Canada. 'Health Canada is charged with regulating the use of donor sperm but the regulations currently in place are outdated. They go back to 2000, they're not evidence-based, they're not based on standards, and Health Canada has not done anything since 2000 to update the regulations or the standards,' he told CBC news.

'So when donor sperm comes into Canada it basically has to meet one requirement: that it's free of infection. And every sample that comes into Canada has to be checked and validated that it is infection-free. But in terms of genetic risk, there's nothing that is required.'

However, Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, told the Guardian that widening the scope of genetic testing too far could be problematic: 'I think the perfect genome probably doesn't exist, so it's really a question of where the line should be drawn.'

'Only about four percent of men who come forward to be sperm donors are accepted. If we were to impose a whole new set of exclusion criteria based on theoretical risks, it is possible there won't be any sperm donors at all', he added.

Donors in the UK are tested for conditions such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis, explains the Guardian. Additionally, guidelines produced by the British Fertility Society state that donors should also be tested for certain other conditions with a genetic basis, such as cleft palate, but that donor selection decisions should be made on an individual basis. Earlier this year a British sperm bank came under fire for listing dyslexia as one of the conditions it would potentially reject a donor for (see BioNews 834) – it has since said it will review the policy.

A claim against Xytex was dismissed in the US last year (see BioNews 826), but another one has since been filed in Canada (see BioNews 847). Xytex has said it is looking forward to 'successfully defending itself', reports CT News.

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