So how does everyone feel about Trent Arsenault? This is the man who says he has never had sex but has nevertheless managed to contribute to the birth of fifteen babies, with another three apparently due soon. He lives in California, advertises his services as a donor on his own website and apparently doesn’t charge his recipients anything for his service. He works as a consultant in IT, seems to be a bit of a loner and in the article in today’s Sunday Times a would-be mother described him as “Very generous and positive but a bit strange”. The American Food and Drugs Administration regard him as more than strange. They seem to consider him “a one man sperm bank” alleging that he “does not provide adequate protections against communicable diseases.” If he engages in the “recovery, processing, storeage, labeling, packaging or distribution ” of sperm he faces a $1000,000 fine and a year in prison. Whilst Arsenault waits for the FDA to decide his future he continues to donate, describing himself as a ‘donorsexual’ as the only sexual activity he undertakes is masturbation in order to donate. I should add that he says he is only too willing to be involved in the lives of the children who come into being as a result of his donation…but without the messy business of actually having to be a parent.
What are we to make of someone like Trent Arsenault? And apparently there are many more like him, not only in California but here in the UK too. Men, advertising on the internet, who are willing to help a woman become pregnant, do not seek the traditional anonymity of the sperm donor, do not want to be paid but are not wanting to be parents either. Some are in it for the ‘sex without ties’, offering NI (natural insemination) as having a higher success rate (it doesn’t) than artificial insemination. Some seem to be Darwinian egotists wanting to spread their genes as far and widely as they can. Others are apparently nice guys just wanting to help out (really!!).
The Donor Sibling Registry, most donor conceived adults and the thinking behind UK legislation are all in favour of limiting the number of offspring from each donor. Partly for reasons of possible consanguinity, but also because it is just plain weird to have huge numbers of half-siblings whom you couldn’t possibly get to know properly. And what about donors, how would they be able to give time to children in very large numbers of families? It makes a mockery of any statement about being willing to be involved in the lives of their offspring. And what are children to make of the stranger their mother met on-line, who contributed to giving them life, is known to their mother(s) but who isn’t around much and possibly seems a little odd when he is. What is this relationship, what is he to be called? Surely not dad.
As we know from recent hearings in the High Court in London, having a known donor is not straightforward. Misunderstandings are all too common and whilst most situations don’t end up in the Court of Appeal, many cause everyday frictions that cannot be good for the lives of anyone involved, particularly the children. Yet, some donor conceived adults are crying out for situations where they can know both their donor and their dad (or mums, whichever the case may be). Known donor arrangements can be good for children. We have families in DC Network who carefully chose a friend who already had a partner and children to be their donor. But they worked hard at getting things right beforehand. Specialist Fertility Law Solicitor Natalie Gamble gives some excellent guidelines for anyone contemplating a known donor on her web site http://www.nataliegambleassociates.co.uk/blog/2012/02/10/how-to-avoid-a-known-donor-dispute/ Essentially, it is all about talk/listen, talk/listen….then listen and talk some more. Iron out potential problems before you start and have a written agreement, even if this is not actually legally binding.
Meeting someone on the internet has NOTHING to do with the type of relationship you need to have in place before entering into any level of known donor arrangement. Of course would-be parents have to take responsibility for the decisions they make as well. There would not be Trent Arsenault’s without those who use his services… but I can’t help hoping the FDA get him and set a precedent towards regulation in a country that is shocking in it’s cavalier attitude to donor assisted reproduction.