One baby after another: In this Dec. 15, 2011, photo, Trent Arsenault is seen holding a magazine and posing for a photograph at his home in Fremont, California. Arsenault has fathered 14 children in the last five years through free sperm donations to childless couples he meets on the Internet. The US Food and Drug Administration sent Arsenault a cease-and-desist letter late last year telling him he must stop because he does not follow the agency’s requirements for getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases within seven days before giving sperm. (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, Lacy Atkins)A man from the San Francisco Bay area has fathered 14 children in the last five years through free sperm donations to women he meets through his website - and is now in trouble with the federal government.
The case of Trent Arsenault has drawn attention to the practice of informal sperm donation, which physicians and bioethicists call unsafe but some people say is a civil liberties issue.
Arsenault says he donates sperm out of a sense of service to help people who want to have children but can't afford conventional sperm banks. The 36-year-old minister's son has four more children on the way.
"I always had known through people praying at church that there's fertility issues," Arsenault told The Associated Press on Monday. "I thought it would just be a neat way of service to help the community."
The US Food and Drug Administration sent Arsenault a cease-and-desist letter late last year telling him he must stop because he does not follow the agency's requirements for getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases within seven days before giving sperm. The FDA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Violators of FDA regulations on human cells and tissues face up to a year in prison and a US$100,000 fine, according to guidelines published on the agency's website.
Arsenault gets tested regularly, but following the FDA's rules would make it impossible to keep offering his sperm for free, he said.
"The regulations may be little bit strict, but I think that's appropriate," said Dr. Mitchell Rosen, director of the University of California, San Francisco Fertility Preservation Center.
Rosen said it's not uncommon for women to use donated sperm from someone they know. But trusting a donor who is being honest about his background is no substitute for screening for diseases that could be passed on to the mother or child, he said.
A sperm bank will also isolate the actual sperm cells from the donor's semen, which reduces the risk of passing along pathogens, Rosen said. "In this situation there's no reduction of risk. It's just as if they're going out and having a one-night stand."