Angela Collins and Margaret Elizabeth Hanson thought they were opting for a highly educated man with an "impressive health history" when they selected a donor from a U.S.-based sperm bank to start their family.
It was only years after the birth of their son that the Port Hope, Ont., couple learned they hadn't been told their donor was a college dropout with schizophrenia and a criminal record, they allege in a lawsuit filed in a Georgia court last week.
The couple is now seeking damages for pain, suffering and financial losses as it alleges Xytex Corp. engaged in fraud, misrepresentation, negligence and battery, among other claims.
'Significant' case wants industry accountability
When reached for comment on Monday, Collins said she wasn't ready to speak publicly on the suit, but her lawyer said the legal action was an important one.
'It took our clients five to 10 minutes ... to demonstrate to themselves that what Xytex has said about him was not true.' - Nancy Hersh, lawyer
"The case is significant because I believe both fertility clinics and the sperm banks and everyone associated with the industry requires accountability and regulation," San Francisco-based lawyer, Nancy Hersh, told The Canadian Press.
"It would have been very easy for Xytex to have conducted an investigation in order to confirm the representations that they were making about this donor. It took our clients five to 10 minutes, once they were accidentally given his identity, to demonstrate to themselves that what Xytex has said about him was not true."
Collins and Hanson filed the suit to help provide accountability in the industry, prevent a similar situation for others, and establish a "medical monitoring fund" for their child because he has an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, Hersh said.
The Canadian couple isn't the only one affected by the situation, Hersh added. The suit states the donor appears to have fathered 36 children and Hersh said she had at least 15 other clients who may be joining the lawsuit.
Xytex said it "absolutely denies any assertion that it failed to comply with the highest standards for testing."
"Xytex is reviewing and investigating the allegations asserted," it said in a statement. "Recipients are provided access to a comprehensive list of the genetic and infectious diseases for which donated specimens are tested."
None of the allegations contained in the statement of claim has been proven in court.
Donor claimed to be pursuing PhD
Collins and Hanson decided to begin a family in 2006 and learned there were three sperm banks approved by Health Canada, the statement of claim said.
After an extensive review of each company, the pair decided on Xytex, which claimed its process of qualifying a donor is "very intense and arduous, generating a lot of medical, psychological, genetic and social information," the statement of claim noted.
The couple then chose their donor after being told, among other details, that he was working on his PhD in neuroscience engineering, had a masters in artificial intelligence, was "mature beyond his years," and was "among their best donors," the lawsuit said.
The couple were also told Xytex had done all it could to ensure the man was "authentic and healthy," it said.
Collins then gave birth to the couple's son in 2007 and was connected with an online group of mothers through Xytex who all had children from the same donor.
In June 2014, everything the couple knew about their sperm donor changed when they received a series of emails from Xytex in error with the name of the donor — James Christian Aggeles.
"Plaintiffs and others very quickly discovered for the first time that defendants representations had been false," the statement of claim said. "Among other things, defendant Aggeles was schizophrenic, which is genetic and hereditary, thereby risking all of said defendant's donor offspring."
The couple also found out that Aggeles "held no degrees whatsoever," had been arrested for burglary and that his photos had been doctored to remove a large mole on his cheek, the statement of claim alleged.
"Plaintiffs sustained emotional injuries and damages," the lawsuit alleged. "Had plaintiffs known the true facts, plaintiffs would not have purchased sperm from defendants and plaintiffs have been harmed as a result of defendants' deceit and fraud."
No medical negligence or medical malpractice has been alleged.
The lawsuit is seeking a trial by jury.