- A British sperm donor has fathered at least 15 children without fully disclosing that he is 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 children and his name has been made public to protect future parents.
- For more stories, visit Business Insider.
A British sperm donor who says he has fathered 15 children has failed to explain to at least some of the mothers that he has fragile X syndrome, an incurable genetic disease that causes developmental delays and intellectual disability, according to court documents.
The 37-year-old man, James MacDougall, advertised himself as a private sperm donor for lesbian couples on Facebook. His condition would likely prevent him from donating through a regulated bank.
Now MacDougall’s request to a family court in Derby, UK, to spend time with some of his children – despite his original no-contact agreements – has been denied. The judge, Judge Nathalie Lieven, said MacDougall would violate parental responsibility for his children.
She said that although their original match refers to fragile X syndrome, MacDougall failed to explain it to them and make sure they understood what it meant. MacDougall “took advantage of the vulnerability of these young women and their strong desire to have children,” Lieven said in the verdict.
The judge also made MacDougall’s name public so that future parents-to-be know his history when they Google him. “The usual approach to 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 mothers in their twenties
The case involved three mothers in their early twenties, 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, although he seemed content to let the other women who used his sperm determine the terms of their relationship, the court documents say.
The mother of two, named SW, told the court that her 3-year-old child, fathered by MacDougall, is nonverbal and “shows defiant 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 disabilities herself, asked MacDougall to leave, citing inappropriate behavior such as making sexual advances and showering with the baby. He was soon arrested after assaulting her, although 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 mother, identified as EG, told the court she had misread the agreement, including MacDougall’s condition.
As for the third mother, KE, MacDougall had already gained legal access to his biological son, whom MacDougall considered his father. But the toddler had recently suffered “accidental bruises” under his care, court documents state, and the case has been adjourned while social services investigate.
MacDougall’s parents told the Daily Mail that their son is a ‘victim’. They adopted him as an abused baby, they said, and he lives off disability money while volunteering.
“He’s kind-hearted and would do anything for anyone, but he’s gullible,” the mother said. “He just wanted to help those people, who help women in a gay relationship to fulfill their dreams and become parents.”
Fragile X Syndrome May Cause Lifelong Disability
Fragile X syndrome is the most common known cause of intellectual disability, according to the CDC, affecting about 1 in 7,000 men and 1 in 11,000 women.
It’s usually more severe in boys and men: Boys with it have an average IQ below 55, while the average score in the general population is 100. By the time they reach adulthood, 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 children with this condition may also have mental health conditions such as attention deficit disorder, anxiety, and hyperactivity. About one-third of fragile X patients meet the criteria of an autism spectrum disorder, according to the National Library of Medicine. Some are prone to attack.
The condition can also lead to several physical characteristics, such as a long, narrow face, large ears, low muscle tone and flat feet, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is not life-threatening and can be treated with drugs and therapy.
Private sperm donation is not uncommon
As a carrier of fragile X, it is difficult, if not impossible, to donate to a sperm bank. At a California clinic, less than 1% of applicants make the cut after providing all of their medical records and undergoing tests, US News previously reported.
Advertising sperm through social media means fewer terms for the donor, many of whom say they do it to help people build a family. MacDougall told the court that he originally became a donor to help a friend.
Private sperm donation also means much less costs for expectant parents. One woman, Kayla Ellis, previously told Insider’s Julia Naftulin how she and her wife got pregnant 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 about sperm donation via TikTok. She required potential donors to provide 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 will want custody or a mother will want child support — as well as medical risks, as MacDougall’s case shows. Home insemination, the typical method of conception in these cases, can also carry risks, such as cramping and infection.