Alan Phan, who has two children of his own, has been privately providing sperm to would-be parents as well as donating through registered fertility clinics.
The 40-year-old from Brisbane is being investigated by the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Authority (VARTA), which manages that state’s donor registers.
Several clinics told the authority that Mr Phan had been donating sperm outside their registers and might have helped create more children for others than is permitted.
Under Victorian law men can only create ten ‘families’, including their own.
Mr Phan said he found it very hard to turn women down knowing how desperate they were to have a baby and had donated to three women in one day.
‘When I first started, I was only going to donate nine times,’ he said. ‘I reached my ninth and I thought that was it.
‘Then I received a message from a lady around Christmas saying the donation was successful, which became my tenth.
‘I thought, “Well, I’ve already gone over my limit, I’ll just help a few more”, and it kind of blew out. Some of the original recipients weren’t too happy about it.’
Mr Phan described his donating as a hobby, but said it was like a full-time job. He had to abstain from sexual activity, work-out at the gym daily and take a plethora of vitamins to ensure healthy sperm.
He claimed he was the first Vietnamese man donating sperm in Australia and his semen was in high demand because of his ethnicity as well as his success rate.
‘I was pretty surprised at the amount of interest I received,’ he said.
Mr Phan donated to women informally through the online group Sperm Donation Australia.
He said men on the group could be highly competitive and jealous.
The Fertility Society of Australia requires that fertility clinics must not create more than a reasonable number of families and the general interpretation of that is ten.
On top of the guidelines, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia have legislation governing the number of families a donor can have, with Western Australia only allowing five.
Men donating through clinics must sign forms saying they have not donated over this limit.
Mr Phan donated to Melbourne IVF clinics Number 1 Fertility and City Fertility.
A patient of Number 1 Fertility, a woman in her late 30s, is now unable to use her embryos created with Mr Phan’s sperm, which is believed to be causing her extreme stress.
VARTA Chief Executive Officer, Louise Johnson, said the investigation was in its early stages and the authority needed to ensure no more children were born using Mr Phan’s sperm.
‘The embryos in storage cannot be used,’ Ms Johnson said.
‘Once a treating clinic knows that more than ten families have been formed through one donor’s donations, they cannot keep using that donor’s sperm.
‘In addition to this when a donor reaches the ten-family limit the clinic cannot use embryos already created using his sperm for a recipient who has not already had a child using that donor’s sperm.’
Ms Johnson said it was ‘incredibly sad and naive’ of Mr Phan to continue to donate to so many people and stressed it was important for donors to be honest when they donated at a clinic.
‘It is against the law to provide misleading information to a clinic as part of a consent process to donate,’ she said.
Ms Johnson said the ten-family limit was put in place to prevent donor-conceived people having large numbers of siblings living in the same community as them.
Mr Phan donated sperm to 22-year-old Lataya Berg on Christmas Eve last year and she gave birth to baby boy Kenai.
Ms Berg, from Jimboomba, 40km south of Brisbane, was surprised but not concerned to be told that Mr Phan was being investigated.
However, she said it would have been nice to have been made aware he was donating sperm in Melbourne.
Ms Berg was on a Facebook chat group with some of Mr Phan’s other sperm recipients and there had been no mention of the investigation there.
She vaguely recalled Mr Phan telling her he created seven families when they met.
Fertility clinics are facing a shortage of donors, while private donations through online forums are booming.
The founder of Sperm Donation Australia, Adam Hooper, said men preferred to donate privately because it allowed them to choose who got their donation.
They could also discuss with recipients how much contact they would have with future children.
Mr Hooper felt the investigation into Mr Phan would create a dishonest system with donors using aliases and recipients avoiding registering their donors.
‘Ultimately this is a recipe for disaster,’ Mr Hooper said.
‘I have tried to reach out to VARTA in the past to work out a system between online donors and clinics because they’re both intertwined together.
‘Most clinic donors are also online donors yet VARTA have never contacted me back.
‘This will set a precedent that people will not report anything to them and will also potentially spell the end of clinics for those requiring donor sperm.’
Mr Hooper said Mr Phan had a system in place where all mothers knew of each other and all children could meet from a young age.
‘From a psychological standpoint his recipients and any resulting children will be far better off than the current clinic system in place for those who don’t pick a known donor,’ he said.
Family law specialist Stephen Page advised that the safest option for donors and recipients was to go through a clinic.
He said a High Court decision last year in which a sperm donor was found to be the parent of a child had caused some confusion.
‘The law in this area is unclear. If the men are not careful, they may end up having to pay child support or the children can inherit from their estate,’ Mr Page said.
He said men donating outside clinics should think carefully, particularly if they were choosing to donate through intercourse.
‘As soon as a man has sex with a woman, he is dad whether each like it or not,’ Mr Page said.
Professor Fiona Kelly from La Trobe University Law School said most online donors were exceeding their limits.
‘Clinics are supposed to pick up if a donor is donating privately as well as at the clinic,’ Professor Kelly said.
Professor Kelly said there was a long history of private donation, which had its benefits. However, she felt Facebook groups were turning it into a business arrangement.
‘These men are intending to donate to a large number of people and the goal seems to be prolific, rather than build a relationship with a small number of recipients,’ Professor Kelly said.
‘It seems to be a spreading the seeds mentality with a lot of them.’
Professor Kelly’s work with donor-conceived adults had shown they could feel like a commodity rolled out on a factory line.
‘It is disconcerting feeling like you are one of many,’ she said. ‘And they support strongly offspring limits.’
A spokesperson from Fertility Number 1 said the clinic could not comment on specific donors due to laws banning identification.
‘Number 1 Fertility strictly follows all regulatory requirements attaching to donors and sperm donation,’ the spokesperson said.
‘Number 1 Fertility works closely with VARTA to help any patient achieve their dream.
‘Sperm donation is essential for successful fertility treatment in many cases and Number 1 Fertility values the generosity of donors.’