Sperm Donors Offer Services For Free, With No Anonymity

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FDA Orders Free Sperm Donor to Stop

Before he embarked on this avocation, Arsenault said he had his testosterone levels tested.

"It's up there," he said. "I have the drive to procreate and that's part of my success as a donor. The juices are flowing, so to speak."

Keri and Amber Pigott-Robertson have a 1-year-old daughter, thanks to Arsenault. The Modesto, Calif., couple arranged a meeting with him recently to introduce her.

"When he saw her for the first time, his face just lit up," Amber, who is in her 30s, told Newsweek. "He was a perfect match. He gave us what we had been longing for, what we felt would complete us. So there's no expressing how much gratitude I have for him. People like Trent come once in a lifetime."

"It's just a service I provide," he said. "My involvement is limited because I work so much, up to 60 or 70 hours a week.

But according to the Food and Drug Administration, Arsenault's service was not just a private affair. Last fall, agents arrived on his doorstep and ordered him to "cease manufacture" of sperm.

The government regards him as a "firm" and charges that he doesn't provide adequate protections against communicable diseases. Arsenault, who is appealing the order, could face a $100,000 fine and a year in prison.

He argues that free sperm donation is a form of sex and not subject to government control.

Beth Gardner, whose wife of two years is on her 10th cycle of trying to conceive a child through free sperm donation, says the government has it all wrong.

She founded the Free Sperm Donor Registry (FSDR), which educates and helps single women, infertile and lesbian couples connect with sperm donors who will donate without payment.

The community encourages personal interviews, questionnaires, reference checks and STD tests before donation is arranged.

FSDR evolved from an earlier Yahoo group and, so far, has 2,500 members and morphed. "We saw a community, mostly of women who seemed to do it because the sperm bank costs are prohibitive. They can't afford it."

Gardner, 35 and from outside San Diego, said the average cost of conception – with four cycles of trying -- is about $2,000, and that's only for the sperm. She said older woman often need more cycles to eventually get pregnant.

"If don't have insurance you pay out of pocket and the costs can rack up fast," she said.

"But the biggest reason we did this was that we wanted our children to know their biological parent," said Gardner. "It's not to have a relationship, but to have the ability to know...If they don't want to know, that's fine, but we want to be able to give an answer."

Children of anonymous sperm donors have been increasingly vocal about wanting to know their parentage, not only to affirm their identity but to know important medical history.

Rebecca Blackwell of Fredericksburg, Md., recently discovered her anonymous sperm donor had unknowingly passed on a rare and sometimes fatal aorta defect to her 15-year-old son Tyler.

"What if your 7-year-old gets leukemia, you'd want to reach out to the greatest number of potential biological matches as you could," said Gardner.

But critics wonder how prospective mothers can discern big-hearted donors like Arsenault from perverts. There are "weirdos," she said, but most are well-educated and "very nice."

"But we can't do any more than Craigslist to keep creepy people off their site."

She and Arsenault say that there are no guarantees that donors don't lie on application forms at official sperm banks.

"It's not like they hire private investigators," she said. "They don't check and see how long your grandparents lived or if there were cardiac issues or how many sperm banks you are donating to."

One method is not "more honest" than the other, she said. "The way to get a good read on someone is to talk to them in person."

Arsenault said he first considered donating but was put off by big commercial sperm banks. He went online and found a 38-year-old teacher from his hometown looking for a donor. "We were almost neighbors," he said.

She and her lesbian partner had trouble conceiving and wanted to "give fresh sperm a try," he said.

Arsenault agreed to meet her in the kids section of Barnes and Noble (she had an adopted 4-year-old) to look each other over. Later, they met up to with a contract they had agreed upon and had it notarized at the Post Office. They picked a date just before Christmas when she would be ovulating.

The woman got pregnant and had a boy nine months later. "It kind of boosted my self-confidence," he said.

Arsenault said he doesn't worry about incest -- the possibility of his children eventually meeting and marrying. "A lot of them are scattered and it's a big state," he said. "And since I am not anonymous, I tell the kids."

The son of evangelical Christians, Arsenault said he has a spiritual motive for helping women who cannot conceive and he wants more men to consider doing the same.

Arsenault cites the Golden Rule and the commandment to "love they neighbor."

"What more can you give to your neighbor that the gift of life?" he asks. "It's my version of love."

Meanwhile, Arsenault has already met two of his daughters and just received a letter from the parents of a boy he sired who wants to stop by and introduce the boy to his biological father.

That seems to be enough for him.

"I couldn't be a father right now," said Arsenault. "But it doesn't keep me from trying to meet the kids once a year and writing them birthday cards or meeting them when their parents are passing through town.

"Maybe someday when job less demanding be able to go visit and have some type of significant relationship with them."

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