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Feds Worry His Cup Runneth Over

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Trent Arsenault is the Barry Bonds of sperm. The 36-year-old, Fremont man boasts that he has sired 14 babies -- with four more in the oven -- via a free sperm-donation service that he promotes on the Internet. Women contact him when they are ovulating. "It only takes me 15 minutes to do my part," he explained to Chronicle reporter Erin Allday. "They'll send me a text message, and by the time they get to my house, it's hot off the press" -- in a sterile cup.

Arsenault has been so successful that, like Bonds, he has attracted the scrutiny of the federal government. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told Arsenault he must cease "manufacturing" sperm, as his establishment was not in compliance with regulations that require tests for communicable diseases every time a man donates sperm. If the FDA successfully pursues the case, then Arsenault could face a $100,000 fine or a year in prison.

The government is in an odd position. There's no law that prohibits a man from impregnating 14 women -- as long as he has sex with them. There's no law that requires men to be tested before intercourse.

Federal test requirements for fluid exchanges apply to sperm banks, but Arsenault doesn't charge for his seed. He offers a low-tech, no-middleman, turkey-baster alternative that allows women to inseminate themselves.

Arsenault calls himself a "donor-sexual" -- "what it means is that 100 percent of my sexual energy is devoted to being a sperm donor." For Arsenault, donating sperm is his way of exercising a "fundamental right" to reproduce "out of love to have a child."

Arsenault leaves the door open to having a relationship with his offspring. But first, Arsenault asks women to sign a contract in which they relinquish the rights to hold him "legally, financially or emotionally responsible for any child(ren) or medical expense that results from the artificial insemination procedure."

"This is ethically despicable," said Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "First of all, getting sperm from someone who intends to maintain a relationship with the children is playing with fire."

Women should beware the risks in having a child with a man they don't really know. What if Arsenault, contrary to his contract, wants custody? There's the possibility of a genetic disease, even inadvertent incest, among the children of a big donor. In September, The New York Times reported on a sperm-bank donor who sired 150 children.

Caplan noted American politicians "have just not been willing to set any kind of reasonable restrictions on anything having to do with reproductive technology."

Other countries limit the number of children a sperm donor may father -- in the United Kingdom, the limit is 10 -- but not in the United States, where fertility is big business.

"It seems to me the FDA may well be overreaching," said Caplan, "but it doesn't bother me in the least, because no one else is paying attention."

At least the FDA is alerting women to the risks in using a freelance sperm donor. To wit: Some day these children will grow up to learn about their "donor-sexual" dad.

It's a free country. It's a brave new world. Caplan worries, "Who's looking out for the kids who result from this?" _

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