Couple sues sperm bank over 'false' donor information

Couple sues company after allegedly being supplied with false information about their chosen sperm donor.
Couple sues company after allegedly being supplied with false information about their chosen sperm donor.  Photo: Getty Images

When you think the biological father of your child is a highly educated PhD student with an "impressive health history", it would come as quite a shock to discover he's actually a college dropout with schizophrenia and a criminal record.

This is what happened to Angela Collins and Margaret Elizabeth Hanson after their sperm bank, Xytex Corp, allegedly provided them with false information about their chosen donor.

The Canadian couple is now suing the company, saying the organisation is guilty of fraud and negligence. 

Ms Collins and Ms Hanson first came into contact with Xytex Corp in 2006 when they decided to start a family. They chose the company as one of three sperm banks approved by Health Canada.

According to documents filed in a Canadian court last week, the company told the couple the process of donor qualification was "very intense and arduous, generating a lot of medical, psychological, genetic and social information."

When the couple made their selection they were told the donor was working on his PhD in Neuroscience Engineering, had a Masters in Artificial Intelligence and was "mature beyond his years", according to the lawsuit.  

Ms Collins went on to give birth to the couple's son, conceived with the donor sperm, in 2007. It wasn't until last June when Xytex Corp incorrectly sent them an email containing the donor's name that the truth was revealed. 

"Plaintiffs and others very quickly discovered for the first time that defendants representations had been false," the statement of claim filed in the court reads. "Among other things, (the donor) was schizophrenic, which is genetic and hereditary, thereby risking all of said (donor's) offspring."

The couple discovered their son's biological father had completed no higher education, had been arrested for burglary and that his photos had been doctored to remove a large mole on his cheek.

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While the exact cause of schizophrenia is still unknown, experts believe that genetics plays a part, along with environmental factors. One estimate is that children who have one schizophrenic parent have a 13 per cent higher risk of having it too.   

"Plaintiffs sustained emotional injuries and damages. Had plaintiffs known the true facts, plaintiffs would not have purchased sperm from defendants and plaintiffs have been harmed as a result of defendants' deceit and fraud."

The couple is now seeking damages for pain, suffering and financial losses from Xytex Corp.

"The case is significant because I believe both fertility clinics and the sperm banks and everyone associated with the industry requires accountability and regulation," the couple's San Francisco-based lawyer Nancy Hersh told The Canadian Press.

"It would have been very easy for Xytex to have conducted an investigation in order to confirm the representations that they were making about this donor. It took our clients five to 10 minutes, once they were accidentally given his identity, to demonstrate to themselves that what Xytex has said about him was not true."

Ms Collins and Ms Hanson are not the only parents affected by the discovery, as the donor is believed to have fathered 36 children.

The couple is part of an online group of mothers who chose the same donor, and at least 15 other families are expected to join the court action against Xytex Corp.

The company released a statement to The Canadian Press saying it "absolutely denies any assertion that it failed to comply with the highest standards for testing".

"Xytex is reviewing and investigating the allegations asserted," the statement reads. "Recipients are provided access to a comprehensive list of the genetic and infectious diseases for which donated specimens are tested."

The allegations against the company are yet to be tested in court.