Eight years ago, Angela Collins and Elizabeth Hanson thought they had found the one — the man whose sperm would help them have their first child.
The couple from Port Hope, Ontario, was immediately struck by a sperm donor profile on the website of Xytex Corporation, a global sperm bank based in August, Ga. Donor #9623, Collins told the Toronto Star, was the “male version of my partner.”
He had blue eyes, was well-educated and musically gifted, just like Hanson.
According to his profile, Donor #9623 boasted an IQ of 160. He held bachelor’s and master’s degrees in neuroscience, and was in the midst of pursuing a PhD. He had practically no health problems to speak of, but for the fact that his father was colorblind.
What more could they ask? With that, Donor #9623 became the biological father of Collins and Hanson’s baby. It was years later, in 2014, that Collins received a Facebook message from a woman in the United States who said she had used the same donor, the Star reported.
Donor #9623, the woman said, was not as he appeared.
Some Internet research revealed to Collins that her baby’s father was in reality a man, James Aggeles, who suffered from schizophrenia, narcissistic personality disorder and other mental illnesses.
He did not have any university degrees. In 2005, he was charged with residential burglary.
The information “made my heart sink like a lead ball into my stomach,” Collins told the Star.
Collins, Hanson and two other Canadian families filed lawsuits against Xytex in the Ontario Superior Court on Wednesday, alleging that the company misled them about the health of their sperm donor. Collins and Hanson are the only plaintiffs that have been named in the three corresponding complaints.
The suits claim that Xytex not only failed to provide accurate information about Donor #9623, but also continued to misrepresent his profile after they learned of discrepancies.
Perhaps most troublingly, the plaintiffs’ lawyer James Fireman wrote in an email to The Washington Post, all this came to light only because the company had seemingly inadvertently revealed the donor’s identity.
“What makes this truly bizarre and frightening is that the truth was only learned because of Xytex’s failure to properly maintain their donor’s anonymity,” Fireman said.
According to the Star, some mothers who used Donor #9623’s sperm were informed of his name by an email from Xytex in what appeared to be an accidental breach of confidentiality. Curious, the women ran an Internet search of the man, and found an online comment posted in his name that described his struggles with schizophrenia.
The lawsuit claims that this and other traits have since been verified through public records and by the man himself. According to the suit, he admitted in an interview that he lied about his education and medical history, neither of which he was allegedly asked to verify before he started donating sperm in 2000. He was never asked about his criminal history, he told lawyers.
In a public statement, Xytex President Kevin M. O’Brien denied wrongdoing.
“In this case, the donor underwent a standard medical exam and provided extensive personal and health information,” O’Brien said. “He reported a good health history and stated in his application that he had no physical or medical impairments. This information was passed on to the couple, who were clearly informed the representations were reported by the donor and were not verified by Xytex.”
Xytex told the Star that the donor’s sperm has been used to conceive 36 children in Canada, the United States and Britain.
The families who filed suit claim that the sperm bank misrepresented the degree to which they were certain about the man’s qualifications. They say they were told that he was one of their most popular donors, and that less than 5 percent of applicants actually become Xytex sperm donors. Xytex told them applicants go through an extensive evaluation and interview process so that the company can ascertain their personality, behavior and health, the families said.
Xytex allegedly told them that they would ultimately know more about their sperm donor than they could ever know about a potential partner that they were likely to meet in everyday life.
Aggeles’s account of how he became a donor, detailed in the lawsuit, diverges from this promise.
He told the families’ lawyers that Mary Hartley, a donor manager at Xytex, encouraged him to report a higher IQ. After filling in his questionnaire with false information, Aggeles said, according to the suit, he completed a 10-minute physical examination during which the physician asked about neither his physical nor his mental health history.
Aggeles said he was approved to be a sperm donor two weeks later and began donating sperm immediately. In 2014, 14 years after he became a Xytex donor, he said the company asked him for proof of his educational qualifications. He allegedly provided fake graduation certificates that were readily accepted.
Eventually, Aggeles did complete his undergraduate education — 15 years after he became a sperm donor. His profile is still on the Xytex website, but the page states he is “no longer active in the donor program.”
Collins told the CBC that she does not begrudge Aggeles.
“He’s not a bad man,” she said. “He’s a person who has an illness … And he helped to create the love of my life.”
Carlos Rodriguez, who represented Aggeles after his 2005 burglary arrest, said his former client is not a convicted felon because he completed Georgia’s first offender program.
“In Georgia, if you are sentenced under the first offender act and comply with all the terms at the end you are exonerated,” Rodriguez told PEOPLE. “He’s actually a success story for having been rehabilitated.”
Collins and Hanson have attempted to seek legal recourse before, but their previous lawsuit was dismissed in a Fulton County, Ga., court in October. The Fulton County Superior Court judge who made the ruling, Robert McBurney, said theirs seemed to be a “wrongful birth” claim, which is not recognized by Georgia law.
He expressed sympathy for the couple in his filing, CBS reported.
“Science has once again — as it always does — outstripped the law,” McBurney wrote. “Plaintiffs make a compelling argument that there should be a way for parties aggrieved as these Plaintiffs are to pursue negligence claims against a service provider in pre-conception services.”
Wrongful birth is among the allegations the plaintiffs are launching against Xytex in this new set of lawsuits, along with breach of warranty, selling a defective product, fraud and negligence. They are each seeking around $6 million in damages.
As schizophrenia has a significant genetic component, the parents say that they have had to live with the possibility of seeing it develop in their children.
Collins’s son, to whom she gave birth after being artificially inseminated with Aggeles’s sperm, is now 8 years old.
She told the CBC: “You try not to dwell on [the mental illness] too much because you don’t want it to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.”
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