February 7, 2012

Trent Arsenault — devoted sperm donor, virgin father — hounded by the FDA.

Here is a man who has — as I read this truly fascinating article — devoted himself to sperm donation for altruistic, religious reasons. He gives the sperm, only to couples, and he maintains a rigorous health regime designed to produce the best quality product.

And I use the word "product" to highlight the fact that the FDA has filed a "cease manufacture" order against him.
Although sperm is neither a food nor a drug, the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research regulates those who traffic in it, enforcing frequent and comprehensive tests designed to curb the spread of communicable diseases and genetic disorders. Historically the agency has focused only on traditional sperm banks, not private donors, but Trent was unprecedentedly public about what he was doing. When the FDA first contacted him, he had naïvely signed a piece of paper confirming that he was “an establishment.” In August 2010, using that as a pretext, the FDA sent three agents to his house, where for several days they interviewed him and copied his records. Trent had by then made 340 donations to some 46 different recipients. The scrutiny was time-consuming and stressful; he didn’t have a lawyer and worried than he might land in prison.

By November, the FDA determined that Trent wasn’t screening for diseases nearly often enough, and it issued its cease-­manufacture order. Trent replied that he wished to contest it. He wasn’t charging money, as he explained, and he was helping people. He knew that he was celibate, that he was disease-free, and that he took extraordinary measures to safeguard his DNA. He considered his relationship with his recipients to be “intimate.” Why should the government regulate what he was doing, when anyone, with who knew what health issues, could walk into a bar and have a one-night stand? A government-accountability public-interest group, Cause of Action, agreed, seeing the FDA action as a ringing example of regulatory overreach, and filed a brief on Trent’s behalf. “We questioned him as to the parameters of his relationship with recipients,” Amber Taylor, the chief counsel for Cause of Action, says. “We took away that he’s a very generous, helpful person who sees people in need who could not have children without some form of assistance, who are often lower income or underserved by the fertility-medicine industry.” Trent is currently awaiting a decision by the FDA on whether to grant him a hearing, and in the meantime, the cease-manufacture order has been suspended.
I'm sure that, after this high-profile article, the FDA will back off. But let's talk about the legal issues here. Does Arsenault have a right of privacy in his relationship with the couples he assists? "He describes himself as a 'donorsexual,' with all of his libidinal energy channeled in service of others." Consider that he has 15 — and counting — children through this activity, which had deep religious and emotional meaning to him:
Many of the recipients who have successfully become pregnant have maintained contact with Trent; the lack of anonymity has always been part of his appeal. They send him ultrasounds and arrange to have Trent meet the child. He has a bag ready to go containing his own old toys, which he gives away, and items he uses to observe childhood development....

Trent sits at his desk and pulls up Facebook, where he clicks through photographs of many of his biological children....

Even if he were to stop donating—which he would do immediately if, for instance, he learned that one of his children was autistic or had another genetic problem—Trent says he would stick with his extreme health regimen. “I want to be alive for the children. They will want to know about me. It may not be until they turn 18, or later in life, that they decide they want to meet me, so I want to be in a good capacity to meet them.”
Quite aside from whether he has a constitutional right of privacy with respect to these intimate relationships, why does the federal government have power over his activity? Because it regulates the sperm bank business and this is like the way it can regulate growing one marijuana plant even one that isn't intended for the commercial market? But marijuana is a commodity, and — as the Supreme Court said in Gonzales v. Raich — "the regulation is squarely within Congress’ commerce power because production of the commodity meant for home consumption, be it wheat or marijuana, has a substantial effect on supply and demand in the national market for that commodity."

Be it wheat or marijuana... or sperm?

50 comments:

TWM said...

I have a vague memory of some movie line about "deeply religious" sex intentions (a comedy). Anyone remember it?

Expat(ish) said...

I was gonna say that this guy is a whack job but thought it might be misunderstood.

-XC

PS - Glad all the big FDA related problems are under control and they can focus down a 36 people in a country of 300M+

PPS - WV was "baliz" followed by "spera" which just sounds funny.

Jay said...

why does the federal government have power over his activity?

Why does the FDA have "agents" anyway?

If the FDA, or the federal government for that matter, are so overburdended and under-funded, how do they have the time to find and harass this guy?

Paul Zrimsek said...

"Boon, I contemplate a deeply religious experience." -- Otter from Animal House, leaving for a date.

shiloh said...

"Many of the recipients who have successfully become pregnant have maintained contact with Trent; the lack of anonymity has always been part of his appeal. They send him ultrasounds and arrange to have Trent meet the child. He has a bag ready to go containing his own old toys, which he gives away, and items he uses to observe childhood development...."

Creepy ... giving this, fill in the blank, and the parents the benefit of the doubt, different strokes for different folks.

As modern technology marches on ...

Kit said...

This fellow seems kind of an odd duck.

Pogo said...

So it's official:
The government owns your body, and not you.

tim maguire said...

When we are so far down the road that we can contemplate without laughing or grabbing a pitchfork that growing a plant for personal use has substantial effect on interstate commerce, thus justifying federal regulation, then anything becomes possible.

The commerce clause is the clause that ate the constitution.

David said...

It is interesting that of all the problems in the nation, they focus on this one. Sounds to me like they are seriously over funded.

That said, and given my belief that personality has a strong genetic factor, I doubt I would choose this guy. Too reclusive in a sociable world.

Curious George said...

"tim maguire said...
The commerce clause is the clause that ate the constitution."

Not so. The POTUS selection of justices that interpret the commerce clause to mean anything they want is what ate the constitution.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Funny how the government doesn't see fit to crack down on those other sperm donors who leave a bunch of fatherless kids the rest of us end footing the bill for.

george said...

And all this time I thought I had to get a vasectomy. I didn't know I could just issue a "cease manufacture" order to my balls.

And yeah, it really is past time to repeal the Commerce Clause. Our political leaders have proven time and time again they cannot be trusted with it so we need to take it away from them just like you would take the scissors away from a child who runs with them and cuts up your furniture.

Molly said...

Wouldn't it be ironic if over the next 20 years or so, Roe v. Wade proved to be the most effective defense against the nanny state?

Scott M said...

where for several days they interviewed him and copied his records.

So that's what the kids are calling it these days...

GulfofMexico said...

If sperm is a commodity then "we the people" are commodities, too, no?

rhhardin said...

It's a crime not anticipated by legislators, who have a hard enough time trying to preserve the minimal amount of good that does exist in people.

(after Lautreamont)

GulfofMexico said...

Gonzales is the case where Scalia contorted himself to concur with the majority cuz he hates weed.

He lost me with that one.

Tim said...

Hoosier Daddy said...

"Funny how the government doesn't see fit to crack down on those other sperm donors who leave a bunch of fatherless kids the rest of us end footing the bill for."

That's completely different.

It's part of the Democrats' endless drive to foster dependency on federal programs, thus building permanent voting blocks.

Just like public employee unions.

dbp said...

A classic case of government over-reach, around.

Tim said...

Molly said...

"Wouldn't it be ironic if over the next 20 years or so, Roe v. Wade proved to be the most effective defense against the nanny state?"

Some conservatives support abortion rights exactly for the reason of the Roe effect.

I'm pro-life, but sometimes, I find they make a compelling case.

Darrell said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2078082/Trent-Arsenault-Serial-sperm-donor-outed-porn-star-films-explicit-acts.html

What woman wouldn't want a baby from a guy like this?

bagoh20 said...

"Devoted Sperm Donor" would look awesome on a business card.

MadisonMan said...

How many people are devoting full-time work to this case, I wonder. What a waste of money.

I haven't seen a picture of the guy in question. Dare I? I was afraid I'd click something and see a 90-year old guy looking back at me.

I hope his children are all aware of each other's existence, however.

MadisonMan said...

I will say, though, that his smoothie recipe made with PopTarts and Chocolate syrup sounds great!

Dead Julius said...

First they came for the spermdonors...

edutcher said...

Interesting, although, if one of his offspring did have a congenital condition, he'd be wise to check family histories. Many, like Cushing's, are matrilineal.

That said, he obviously feels obliged to be fruitful and multiply, and few women would probably share a desire to have 20 or so kids. So he makes a lot of couples happy.

Nothing creepy about it.

But the Feds' role in this reminds us all how a POTUS who feels inconvenienced by the Constitution and Congress and court orders can be a danger to our rights.

Ann Althouse said...

@Darrell The stuff about his masturbating on camera (and being on camera 24/7) is in the New York Magazine article that I linked to.

Before you reject this guy — with that "porn star" URL — please read the article. Take in the whole story and then tell me how you judge him.

I kept seeing things that made me drift toward a negative judgment, but in the end, I could not get there. I came away thinking this is a very unusual man, but he has found a mission in life, he is devoted and altruistic, and he really is some kind of saint.

Ann Althouse said...

You might think he's so odd he shouldn't pass on his genes to the next generation, but at this point he has so many offspring that you can just look at them and see whether his genetic contribution is good.

MadisonMan said...

he really is some kind of saint.

Not buying it. He's doing something any other non-vasectomized male could do. I agree he's put an excellent spin on it. Now the Govt has helped him play the Victim Card too!

Win!

Peter said...

Trent has bad eyesight and hairy palms.

Dead Julius said...

A few days ago I regifted this tidbit from Slashdot in these here comments:

Quick: Name five activities with no possible plausible effect on interstate commerce.

I'm still stumped!

Incidentally, that piece involved the FDA too.

I guess we now have national government. Nothing is left to the state. If you keep on expanding the applicability of the Commerce Clause, while limiting the applicability of Amendment X, then that's what you get.

It would be nice if Romney and the Republicans made this a campaign issue. I guess they don't because they want things to go in this direction too.

MadisonMan said...

I guess they don't because they want things to go in this direction too.

I never expect politicians to cede power.

Meade said...

Call me unsaintly Luddite but I prefer the old-fashioned method.

William said...

In Darwin, there is the concept of the sneaky fucker. While the alpha males are locking horns on the mountain top in order to establish their alpha status, down in the valley some opportunistic beta male is locking genitals with the neglected females. This guy takes sneaky fucking to a whole new level....It doesn't matter whether he deserves to pass his genes through to another generation. He already has, and in greater quantity than the average NBA player.

Dead Julius said...

I never expect politicians to cede power.

The great Cincinnatus did. And we still admire him for it 2500 years later. Plus we Americans named Cincinnati after him-- YAY Team Roman! WKRP FTW!

But did he do it because of his own personal virtue?

Or did he do it because the society around him expected him to, and encouraged him to?

I think it is an open question... or maybe a little of both!

In any case, we citizens can't go wrong with demanding that our elected leaders lay down powers that are no longer necessary or applicable. If we don't, they might not.

Too bad only the Paulites get this fact. And everyone shits on them for it.

Scott M said...

Plus we Americans named Cincinnati after him-- YAY Team Roman! WKRP FTW!

"As the gods are my witness, I thought slaves could fly."

Darrell said...

I can't recall any saints who masturbated on camera to a bowl of blueberries, but I haven't read everything that's ever been written. Right now I'm seeing red flags and suspect we'll learn more now that all this publicity has started.

A few years ago, a German fellow put up an ad on Cannibal Café looking for woman he wanted to kill and eat and he got over 200 responses. Trent's concern for ozone depletion and all the right issues certainly makes him a catch.
A secular humanist "saint" perhaps. I suspect mental problems myself, some sort of fetish for procreation/reproduction--without the messy (read "good") bits. The lack of interest in females as a teen isn't interesting to the world of psychiatry these days, I guess. Maybe his "acute aversion to the sun" while living in Cali should be.

edutcher said...

Meade said...

Call me unsaintly Luddite but I prefer the old-fashioned method.

I'm sure the Mrs appreciates your devotion to the Classical method.

Penny said...

The man is mentally ill.

Oh..And that EVIL FDA!

John said...

What happens when all these children, or the state on their behalf, come after him for child support payments?

John Henry

John said...

I think the guy and his "enterprise" are a bit creepy but nothing outside of the broad range of normal.

I don't know why this is any different from doing it for money via a sperm bank.

I can see the state govt regulating sperm banks.

I can't see why any agency at any level would or should have any authority to regulate this.

John Henry

Sofa King said...

It would be nice if Romney and the Republicans made this a campaign issue. I guess they don't because they want things to go in this direction too.

Well, why don't you go live in SOMALIA if you hate having a national government! You racist!

Kit said...

I kept seeing things that made me drift toward a negative judgment, but in the end, I could not get there. I came away thinking this is a very unusual man, but he has found a mission in life, he is devoted and altruistic, and he really is some kind of saint.

Still, just an odd duck. No judgement, either way.

Kirk Parker said...

Dead Julius,

Uhhhh, shouldn't that be "SPQR FTW!" ?

Gene said...

If the FDA really wanted to go after unregulated sperm donations it could make a trip to South Central LA where, on any given Saturday night, there are thousands of guys in their mid-twenties making direct sperm donations to girls still in middle school.

veni vidi vici said...

Seems more an example of "regulatory reacharound" than overreach. lol.

"Cease manufacture order"

Sounds like he could fairly claim that the federal government has ordered him to have a vasectomy or castration. Outside the context of those chemical castration sentences occasionally handed down to the worst sexual predators found guilty of criminal conduct, this is unprecedented, no?

Eric said...

This is all just more poison fruit from the Wickard tree.

davis,br said...

...this is one of the stranger things I've read on the Internet, let alone at Althouse.

So: Kudos.

I guess.

...I just sincerely hope this is one of those trivia bits that quickly fades from focus, never to return.

OldGrouchyCranky said...

Please, everyone is confusing the issue! That issue, quite simply, is that only one person has the right to determine who shall father children in our enlightened society.

To have the situation to be otherwise would be to revert back to old style relationships. So, quite simply, the issue is to have but a few well chosen persons selected to father the nation's children. And, obviously, no one so appointed Mr. Trent Whatshisname. Problem resolved and so quickly too.

Next issue, please!

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