Ethically complex case potentially links children’s autism to sperm donor

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Danielle Rizzo’s young children are at the centre of one of the most ethically complex legal cases in the modern-day fertility industry, writes the The Washington Post. They are part of a cluster of children diagnosed with autism, all conceived with the sperm from the same donor.

Three years ago, while researching treatment options for her sons, Rizzo says she made an extraordinary discovery: The boys are part of an autism cluster involving at least a dozen children scattered across the US, Canada and Europe, all conceived with sperm from the same donor – Donor H898 from Idant Laboratories. Many of the children have secondary diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, mood disorders, epilepsy and other developmental and learning disabilities.

The report says the phenomenon is believed to be unprecedented and has attracted the attention of some of the world’s foremost experts in the genetics of autism, who have been gathering blood and spit samples from the families.

Rizzo filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in July 2017. In her complaint, she alleged that his online profile was a lie and that he was not an “appropriate candidate for sperm donation.” She sued Idant and Daxor, Idant’s former parent company, under the state’s consumer fraud and deceptive practices act.

She says in the complaint that research, based on public documents and calls to his relatives, showed that the donor had no college degrees, had been diagnosed with ADHD, and “went to a school for children with learning and emotional disabilities.” (Idant, and other sperm banks, generally do not verify their donors’ medical and educational backgrounds.) Moreover, her attorneys wrote in the filing, “Donor H898 is a prolific sperm donor who has fathered at least 12 children through sperm donation, and that each of those children has either been diagnosed with Autism, or suffers from signs and symptoms associated with Autism.” In court documents, other mothers corroborated the story.

Guidelines from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which represents fertility clinics in the United States, call for mandatory genetic testing for only one disease: cystic fibrosis. But most clinics say they test for several hundred. There is no test for autism.

Idant was one of the nation’s oldest sperm banks until it shut down around 2015 . In 2009, it was sued by a woman whose child had Fragile X Syndrome, a developmental disorder that is among the conditions typically detected in genetic tests. The suit was dismissed because the plaintiffs could not define a “legally-cognizable injury.” In 2004, state inspectors found that Idant had ignored the requirement that sperm donors be tested for genetic and sexually transmitted diseases. It was temporarily closed by New York state regulators in 1995 for failing to pass along information about “high-risk social and sexual behavior. And in the 1990s, Idant settled a lawsuit from a white mother who said it gave her the wrong sperm, from a black donor.

Officials from Daxor, Idant’s former parent company, said in a statement that Rizzo’s lawsuit was “meritless.”

And, the report says, in court filings, Idant attorneys called the accusations by Rizzo “inflammatory, specious and dangerous,” and said her claims did not establish that the company “knew any of the alleged representations to be false.”

Full Washington Post report

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