SAN FRANCISCO — A man from the San Francisco Bay area has fathered 14 children in the last five years through free sperm donations to childless couples he meets on the Internet — and is now in trouble with the federal government.
Trent Arsenault of Fremont says he donates sperm out of a sense of service to help people who want to have children but can't afford conventional sperm banks. The 36-year-old minister's son has four more children on the way.
"I always had known through people praying at church that there's fertility issues," Arsenault told The Associated Press on Monday. "I thought it would just be a neat way of service to help the community."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent Arsenault a cease-and-desist letter late last year telling him he must stop because he does not follow the agency's requirements for getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases within seven days before giving sperm. The FDA did not immediately respond to questions about what kind of punishment he faces.
Arsenault gets tested regularly, but following the FDA's rules would make it impossible to keep offering his sperm for free, he said.
Arsenault believes the FDA tracked him down from his website, which advertises his availability as a sperm donor. In its letter, the agency describes Arsenault's service as a business. Arsenault disagrees.
"This is not a business or a clinic. It's just people partnering up to have a baby out of compassion," he said.
At the time of the FDA letter, the Silicon Valley computer security specialist had made 328 sperm donations to 46 women, a number he said is now higher. He can continue to donate sperm while the case is pending.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine maintains that people seeking help to start a family go to sperm banks, which follow stringent rules for screening sperm for infectious diseases.
"To not do so is risky," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the group.
The oldest child Arsenault has fathered is now 4. He and the recipients, whom he describes as "intimate partners," sign a legal agreement ahead of time stripping him of any custody rights and absolving him of any financial responsibility for the children.
But he says that part of the reason of making himself publicly visible as a sperm donor rather than remaining anonymous, as is typical with sperm banks, is because he and some of the families hope and expect he will have some involvement in the children's lives in the future.
He says he believes his case comes down to constitutional issues of a right to privacy and reproductive choice.
"It's not that much more different than a couple knowing each other who want to have a baby," Arsenault said. "It's just from me it comes in a cup versus sex."
Associated Press science writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Marcus Wohlsen can be reached on Twitter: http://twitter.com/marcuswohlsen