In Unprecedented Ruling, Court Orders Sperm Donor To Stop … Or Else (2024)

In Unprecedented Ruling, Court Orders Sperm Donor To Stop … Or Else (1)The past few years have seen the rise of the “sperm kings.” These are men who prolifically, and sometimes competitively, offer their reproductive goods for those trying to conceive — generally for free or merely for reimbursem*nt of travel and related costs. They often know that they have (very) large numbers of offspring, but in many cases hide that fact, or even actively misrepresent that number to their recipient customers.

Among the most notorious of the sperm kings is Jonathan Jacob Meijer, a Dutch man. He’s believed to have over 500 offspring, with some estimates closer to 1,200. Two months ago, a nonprofit organization representing recipients of Meijer’s sperm and resulting offspring brought a lawsuit against him. They didn’t ask for money. But they did demand that he stop donating. More specifically, the Donorkind Foundation asked a court to order that Meijer cease all future sperm donations, and also contact sperm banks currently holding his sperm specimens for donation. They wanted him to ask clinics to destroy his sperm specimens, with the limited exception of sperm held for recipients wishing to have a sibling to a current child.

The complaint reasoned that Meijer’s excessive donations risked cases of incest, inbreeding, and severe negative psychosocial implications for his descendants and their families. Meijer, unsurprisingly, disagreed. He argued that it was his personal right to freely decide whether to donate his sperm. And further, that he was not acting out of self-interest, but in the interest of prospective parents he wants to help.

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The Court Delivered

On April 28, 2023, The Hague ruled in a summary proceeding for the plaintiffs. The court described the case to be, at its core, about conflicting fundamental rights. On one hand, the respect of privacy rights of the parents and donor-conceived children, and, on the other hand, the respect of privacy rights of the donor.

The court found that Meijer deliberately misinformed the parents of the donor-conceived children about the number of children he had already fathered as a donor, and was planning to father in the future. He knew this information was decisive for their choice to use his sperm, and he lied. Further, the court found that the negative psychosocial consequences for the offspring were significant and could include difficulty maintaining a relationship with so many half-siblings, identity problems, and the fear of an increased risk of incest and inbreeding.

In light of the substantial interests of the donor-conceived children and their parents, the judge considered the infringement of the donor’s rights to be limited and substantially outweighed. The judge ordered Meijer to cease all donation activity and write to all institutions storing his sperm asking that the specimens be destroyed, with the exception of specimens held for parents for the purpose of a genetically connected sibling to a current child. Further, as reported by Reuters, Meijer is subject to a fine of $100,000 euros per infraction.

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This Is Next Level

Prolific donors have, in the past, faced attempts to curtail their activity. In 2017, after Meijer’s donations came to light to the Dutch government, he was banned from donating to Dutch fertility clinics. However, Meijer continued to find ways to donate — with out-of-country banks, fake names, and through direct private donation.

We have seen other prolific donors face consequences in various countries. Andrew Nagel, the New York sperminator, wasbanned from donating in Israel. There, Israeli law requires that sperm donors must be anonymous, unless the donor signs a document stating an intention to co-parent the child with the mother. Nagel signed at least seven such documents; however, his actions indicated that he did not, in truth, have such intentions. In response, the Israeli Ministry of Health banned Nagel from ever donating in the country again, and notified clinics within Israel to destroy any stored specimens of his sperm.

At least one country, New Zealand, has taken action to prevent entry at the border. According to Kyle Gordy, a California-based donor, he was denied entry into New Zealand because authorities had been alerted to his donation intentions. Even tourism privileges have been revoked, apparently.

But this latest ruling regarding Meijer appears to be the first of its kind where the parents and donor-conceived children have successfully argued through a lawsuit for a donor to be flat-out stopped.

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Sending A Message

Fertility law expert Professor Jody Madeira explained the significance of this case. “This ruling is unprecedented — a judicial attempt to wrest accountability from a serial sperm donor for conduct that goes far beyond unlawful and unethical, to grotesque and selfish. The court is no longer playing ‘tag’ with Meijer.” Madeira explained that the court order, forcing Meijer to retrace the breadcrumbs of his donation trail and notify institutions and individuals, demonstrates that The Hague is taking potential privacy and consanguinity concerns seriously. This is an important first step to not only placing meaningful limits on sperm donation, but imposing consequences upon sperm donors who willfully violate policies, regulations, and their recipients’ trust. It is unclear how enforcement will proceed, particularly with respect to private donors; however, this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

Madeira works closely with donor deception victims like Jacoba Ballard, of the Netflix documentary “Our Father,” and Eve Wiley (check out this podcast episode with her dramatic story). Together, they have been, and continue to be, staunch advocates for improvements in our systems for fertility care and justice.

Wiley notes that this ruling sets a precedent for the black market of sperm donors and highlights an unintentional consequence of a grossly unregulated fertility industry — serial sperm donors. This ruling should send a message to the men who prey on vulnerable populations and have made a competition out of who can have the most offspring. “This ruling is particularly meaningful to me because, as a person conceived out of deception, I had to fight for justice. I am the adult version of the children they are fighting for.”

Ballard — who brought worldwide attention to the deceptive practices of doctors who used their own sperm with unknowing patients — also views this ruling as a positive step. However, in broader terms, Ballard doesn’t see anything truly changing in a broken system of assisted fertility until prospective parents demand accountability from the structures that allow for prolific donors. That means that parents need to carefully consider, well ahead of time, the rights of their future child when it comes to vital interests. This includes preserving access to information about the child’s biological history (no more anonymity, no more secrets), and using best efforts to preserve the ability of future children to have healthy relationships with genetically connected family.

Until that demand-side solution arrives, victims will continue to take steps — hopefully with increasing success after rulings like this — to demand justice.

In Unprecedented Ruling, Court Orders Sperm Donor To Stop … Or Else (11)Ellen Trachman is the Managing Attorney ofTrachman Law Center, LLC, a Denver-based law firm specializing in assisted reproductive technology law, and co-host of the podcastI Want To Put A Baby In You. You can reach her at[emailprotected].

Topics

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), Ellen Trachman, Family Law

In Unprecedented Ruling, Court Orders Sperm Donor To Stop … Or Else (2024)
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