By Stephanie Guler - Senior Content & Social Media Developer | December 19th, 2011
Some families consider Trent Arsenault, a 36-year-old California man, as a real-life superhero.
Since 2006, Arsenault has been donating his sperm to women he meets on the Internet, free of charge; a service that can cost up to $1,000 per donation at a sperm bank. In the past five years, he has donated 348 times to 46 women, and has fathered 14 children, with four more on the way, as a result.
Arsenault began this service after answering a Craig’s List ad from a couple experiencing problems with infertility.
According to the San Francisco Gate, “Arsenault had considered donating through sperm banks, which offer money and anonymity to donors, but he was drawn to the idea of giving away his sperm for free, and being able to meet the future parents and possibly have a relationship with the children.”
Today, Arsenault is facing a $100,000 fine or up to a year in prison for not following FDA sperm donation regulations.
While there’s no denying that his methods are unconventional, does this really make Arsenault a criminal?
Federal regulations require blood tests each time a person donates an organ, blood or fluid. This is mainly used to prevent the transmission of infectious disease, but when it comes to donating sperm or eggs, these strict regulations also protect the health of future children.
Arsenault’s story raises concerns about similar private donations happening around the United States.
Dr. Lynn Westphal, a reproductive endocrinologist at Stanford told the SF Gate, “I know people will get their friends and just use the turkey baster or whatever. Clearly that happens, but there are reasons for these FDA regulations. It’s safer to have the sperm tested.”
The California Cryobank, one of the largest sperm donor services in the world, operates by the policy “good isn’t good enough”, which goes above and beyond FDA’s screening recommendations.
According to their website, potential sperm donors must undergo rigorous genetic and infectious disease testing. This process includes genetic screening for cystic fibrosis (CF), spinal muscular atrophy, sickle cell anemia, and a variety of other congenital conditions. The tests continue with screenings for sexually transmitted diseases such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, and syphilis, as well as testing for Hepatitis and any other infections.
After the potential donor passes these tests, an appointed genetic counselor conducts an interview about the donor’s extended family health history, lifestyle habits, hobbies, education, and personality.
With all of these qualifications taken into consideration, less than one percent of potential candidates are cleared to become sperm donors at California Cryobank.
This is a stark contrast from Arsenault’s process.
Once parents-to-be decide to use him as a sperm donor, Arsenault is ready to go. The couple shares the woman’s ovulation schedule, and lets Arsenault know when the time is right.
He told the SF Gate, “It only takes me 15 minutes to do my part. They’ll send me a text message, and by the time they get to my house, it’s hot off the press.”
The final step involves Arsenault and the couple signing a contract freeing him of parental rights if a child is born, and then the couple is free to go.
What concerns health officials about Arsenault’s service is the safety of his sperm, but he insists his little swimmers are in perfect health. On Arsenault’s website, he posts information about his healthy lifestyle habits, blood tests, sperm count reports and personal details about himself.
Still, some experts are hesitant about Arsenault’s generosity, mainly because he isn’t receiving blood testing as often as the FDA wants him to.
Dr. Mitch Rosen, director of the UCSF Fertility Preservation Center says there’s good reasons for frequent blood testing, because “even the most trusted friends may not know they have Chlamydia…or be willing to say as much,” the SF Gate reported.
Dr. Rosen said, “There’s this thought process that they can use somebody they know and it’s OK. But just because you ‘know’ someone, doesn’t mean you actually ‘know’ them. You’re taking a risk.”
In the meantime, the FDA is allowing Arsenault to continue donating sperm, while they decide whether to grant him a hearing, his lawyers told MSNBC. The attorneys work for the nonprofit law firm called Cause of Action, and have argued that Arsenault shouldn’t be help to clinic sperm donor standards because his contracts with recipients are individual intimate partner arrangements allowed under the law, according to MSNBC.
Arsenault told the SF Gate, “What the FDA is doing infringes on reproductive rights. The government is reaching into the bedroom. There’s no precedence for my case. Whatever happens to me kind of sets the future up for all the other people in these situations – the couples plus the donors.”
It will be interesting to see what happens next in the case of the do-it-yourself sperm donor. Are Arsenault’s donations a compassionate service towards infertile couples, and has the FDA gone too far into people’s personal lives? Or, should Arsenault be punished for his “crimes” and put an end to his free sperm donation service?
This article was written by the medical research team at WhereismyDoctor.com
WhereismyDoctor.com does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor. View sources
The information on this site is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment from a licensed medical practitioner. If you are experiencing a serious medical condition call your local emergency services or your doctor.