SAN FRANCISCO -- Last month Trent Arsenault got three women pregnant -- a new record for the Fremont man and father of 14 (and counting).
"I know the holidays are busy," Arsenault, 36, said with a chuckle, "but I didn't know that included babies."
Arsenault's been a sperm donor for five years, offering his semen to women he meets on the Internet for free.
But his baby-making days may be numbered.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has told him to stop giving away his sperm -- or face a $100,000 fine or up to a year in prison -- on the grounds that he's ignoring federal regulations that require blood tests every time a person donates any kind of body tissue or fluid. He's allowed to keep providing sperm while his case is pending.
Arsenault's now working with an East Coast law firm to challenge the FDA regulations, which he says shouldn't apply to individual donors who are giving away their sperm to people they know and have developed a relationship with.
Fertility experts said it's unlikely the FDA will relax its regulations. But they note that Arsenault's case is interesting in light of the fact that private sperm donations are becoming increasingly common as more people -- including same-sex couples, single women, and couples who have trouble conceiving -- turn to alternative means of reproduction.
"I know people will get their friends and just use the turkey baster or whatever. Clearly that happens," said Dr. Lynn Westphal, a reproductive endocrinologist at Stanford. "But there are reasons for these FDA regulations. It's safer to have the sperm tested."
Arsenault, an engineer with Hewlett-Packard, started donating sperm in December 2006, when he answered an online ad from a San Francisco Bay Area couple who had trouble conceiving. Arsenault spurned sperm banks, which offer money and anonymity to donors because he was drawn to the idea of giving away his sperm for free, and being able to meet the future parents and possibly have a relationship with the children.
His donation process is simple. After the parents-to-be choose Arsenault, they give him a window of time when the woman will be ovulating. When she reaches her optimal time for conception, she contacts Arsenault.
He stores the donation in a sterile cup, and the woman takes it somewhere else to inseminate herself.
The first child, a boy, from Arsenault's sperm was born in September 2007, and there have been 13 more children since then. Four women are currently pregnant from his sperm. Before donating the sperm, Arsenault and the parents sign contracts that absolve him of any fathering rights or responsibilities.
In all, Arsenault has given 348 sperm donations to 46 women. But it's not the number of donations that the FDA has a problem with. In a letter to Arsenault in November 2010, the agency took issue with the safety of his sperm.
Federal regulations say that sperm donors must submit to blood tests for a variety of communicable diseases -- including HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis -- at least seven days before every donation. Those rules apply to anyone who gives sperm, even a close friend helping out a childless couple.
Arsenault has been tested at least five times over the past five years, but very few of his sperm donations fell within seven days of a blood test. The FDA isn't suggesting that there's anything wrong with Arsenault's sperm, just that he isn't testing it as often as he should.
Arsenault says that it would be prohibitively expensive for him to get blood tests every time he donated sperm -- especially when he's giving it away for free. But there's good reason for the testing, fertility doctors say. Even the most trusted friends may not know they have chlamydia, for example. Or be willing to say as much.
"There's this thought process that they can use somebody they know and it's OK. But just because you 'know' someone, doesn't mean you 'know' them," said Dr. Mitch Rosen, director of the UCSF Fertility Preservation Center. "You're taking a risk."
For his part, Arsenault insists that he adheres to an especially healthy lifestyle -- in fact, he makes a point of promoting that on his website, trentdonor.org, where he invites sperm recipients to learn more about him.
Arsenault thinks he's being targeted by the FDA because he has a website where he promotes himself and his sperm donation. But his case, he thinks, could affect the larger community of grassroots sperm donation.
"What the FDA is doing infringes on reproductive rights. The government is reaching into the bedroom," Arsenault said
(Contact reporter Erin Allday firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)