"Donovan does not have to show that Idant was negligent, only that the sperm it provided was unsafe and caused injury. "It doesn't matter how much care was taken," says Daniel Thistle, the lawyer representing Donovan, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."According to Wikipedia (which we know is infallible), sperm donors may be subjected to various levels of genetic testing. Does anyone know if there are laws requiring them to test for certain disorders? I'd imagine some would be a good idea to test for, especially if they're dominantly inherited and late-onset like Huntington's*. Most recessive alleles are rare enough that there's not as much reason to test - that is, the odds of two random people carrying the same allele is incredibly low. At first glance you may think it's a good idea to hold sperm banks responsible for testing. I mean, you're selling a product, and you don't want to give someone a horrible disease, right?
Well, things aren't as simple as they seem. No two sperm are identical, and errors do occur. A single point mutation that occurs at extremely high rates is the cause of the most common form of dwarfism. A one in a million occurrence isn't going to show up in any sort of genetic testing you may do on a semen sample. The same holds true for any sort of disorder that results from aberrant chromosome number (Down Syndrome, Klinefelter's Syndrome, etc).
Even family history can't always alert us to a problem. This girl's situation is the perfect example. Fragile-X is a dominant X-linked disorder, so you should be able to see it in males, right? Well, not exactly. Fragile-X is caused by having too many trinucleotide repeats, much like Huntington's. Trinucleotide repeats like to do this thing called genetic anticipation, where in every generation they expand and make more and more copies. So while daddy's repeat number (and all of his family members') may be in the "normal" range, after expansion, there may be enough repeats to cause the syndrome. The number can also vary from sperm to sperm, so there's no good way to test this.
So you can see why if she wins, this is going to set a scary precedent. Sperm banks can screen like crazy, but there's always the possibility of getting some bad sperm. It's ridiculous to think you can sue them because something turns out wrong. Anyone who's ever reproduced is taking that same risk. In fact, it's probably lower because most people don't do genetic screening unless there's reason to be afraid. Sperm bank sperm is probably a safer bet than your man. So, should you be able to sue your spouse for providing bad genetic material? I certainly don't think so, but who knows...maybe the ensuing paranoia over reproducing would help fight our overpopulation problem.
Let's hope the judge on this case has some basic understanding of genetics.
*Of course, then you get into the whole ethical debate about whether or not to notify the donor or his children if he does have Huntington's...but that's a whole other issue.