- A UK sperm donor has fathered at least 15 kids without fully disclosing he’s a carrier of fragile X, court documents say.
- The condition can lead to low IQ and developmental and behavioral problems, especially in boys.
- The man has been denied contact with some of his kids, and his name is public to protect future parents.
- For more stories visit Business Insider.
A UK sperm donor who says he’s fathered 15 children did not explain to at least some of the mothers he has fragile X syndrome, an incurable genetic disease causing developmental delays and intellectual disability, according to court documents.
The 37-year-old man, James MacDougall, advertised himself as a private sperm donor to lesbian couples on Facebook. His condition would likely bar him from donating through a regulated bank.
Now, MacDougall’s application to a family court in Derby, UK, to spend time with some of his children – despite his original agreements of no contact – have been denied. The judge, Justice Nathalie Lieven, said giving MacDougall parental responsibility for his children would cause them harm.
She said that although their original agreement does refer to fragile X syndrome, MacDougall failed to explain it to them and ensure they understood what it meant. MacDougall “took advantage of these young women vulnerability and their strong desire to have children,” Lieven said in the verdict.
The judge also made MacDougall’s name public so that future prospective parents will know his history if they Google him. “The usual approach of anonymity in the family courts should not be used as a way for parents to behave in an unacceptable manner and then hide behind the cloak of anonymity,” Lieven said.
The case involved three moms in their 20s
The case involved three partnered moms in their early 20s, one with two children fathered by MacDougall and two who each had one child with MacDougall’s sperm. MacDougall wanted some parental rights for these children, though he seemed content to let the other women who’ve used his sperm stipulate the terms of their relationship, the court documents state.
The mom of two, called SW, told the court her 3-year-old child fathered by MacDougall is nonverbal and “has challenging behavior,” court documents say. The documents illustrate a complicated relationship between the woman and MacDougall, who spent some time with the son and lived with the family during the initial COVID-19 lockdown.
But in June 2020, SW, who has learning difficulties of her own, asked MacDougall to leave, citing inappropriate behavior like making sexual advances and showering with the baby. Soon he was arrested after attacking her, though MacDougall said SW’s bruises were likely the result of “playfighting” between her and her new partner. He said SW had used him for money.
The second mom, identified as EG, told the court she did not read the agreement including MacDougall’s condition properly.
As for the third mom, KE, MacDougall had already been granted legal access to his biological son, who considered MacDougall his dad. But the toddler had recently suffered “nonaccidental bruises” under his care, court documents state, and the case is adjourned while social services investigates.
MacDougall’s parents told the Daily Mail their son is a “victim.” They adopted him as an abused baby, they said, and he lives on disability money while volunteering.
“He is kind-hearted and would do anything for anybody, but he is gullible,” the mom said. “He just wanted to help those people, help those women in a gay relationship fulfill their dreams and become parents.”
Fragile X syndrome can cause life-long impairments
Fragile X syndrome is the most common known cause of intellectual disability, according to the CDC, with about 1 in 7,000 males and 1 in 11,000 females diagnosed.
It tends to be more severe in boys and men: Boys with it have an average IQ under 55, while the average score in the general population is 100. By the time they’re adults, 76% of women with the condition can read books with new words or ideas, compared to just 19% of men, the CDC reports.
The condition can cause learning disabilities and cognitive impairment, and kids with it may also have mental health conditions like attention deficit disorder, anxiety, and hyperactivity. About a third of fragile X patients meet criteria of autism spectrum disorder, according to the National Library of Medicine. Some are prone to seizures.
The condition can also lead to distinct physical features, like a long, narrow face, large ears, low muscle tone, and flat feet, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It’s not life-threatening, and can be managed with medications and therapy.
Private sperm donation is not uncommon
Being a carrier of fragile X makes it difficult if not impossible to donate to a sperm bank. At one California clinic, less than 1% of applicants make the cut after providing all their medical records and undergoing testing, US News previously reported.
Advertising sperm through social media means fewer stipulations for the donor, many of whom say they do it to help people build families. MacDougall told the court he originally became a donor to help a friend.
Private sperm donation also means far fewer costs for parents-to-be. One woman, Kayla Ellis, previously told Insider’s Julia Naftulin how she and her wife conceived twice with one sperm donor for less than $ 300 (none of which went to the donor). In contrast, going to a bank for two children with the same biological father can cost about $ 10,000, the New York Times reported.
Ellis now helps educate others on sperm donation through TikTok. She required potential donors to give STD test results, undergo background checks, and sign a notarized contract for the agreement.
Still, there are legal risks – like the chance that a donor may want custody or a mom may want child support – as well as medical ones, as MacDougall’s case shows. Home insemination, the typical mode of conception in these cases, can come with risks too, like cramping and infection.