Dutch court orders halt on sperm donor who produced 550+ children

By Lisa Marie Basile | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published May 4, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A sperm donor in the Netherlands fathered over 550 children and lied to families and clinics about how much sperm he’d donated, and was ordered to halt donation by the Hague District Court.

  • Serial sperm donation runs a risk of psychosocial and physiological consequences. 

  • The US does not regulate sperm donor limitations at the federal level, but there are recommendations that in a population of 800,000, a single donor should not produce more than 25 births.

Last week, the Hague District Court banned a man from donating sperm after finding that, over the last 16 years, his sperm produced between 550 to 600 children in both the Netherlands and other countries.[]

A violation of Dutch law

The law in the Netherlands prohibits sperm donors from either producing more than 25 children through sperm donation or donating sperm to more than 12 mothers.

 However, the donor lied to prospective parents and clinics about how many times he’d donated sperm.

The donor was referred to as Jonathan M. by the Dutch government in accordance with the country’s privacy laws. However, the New York Times confirmed the man’s full name and age—Jonathan Jacob Meijer, 41—in an email exchange regarding a 2021 article that happened to be about him.[] The article, which called Meijer a “serial donor,” centered on how women who’d conceived children with Meijer’s sperm found out that their children had hundreds of kin.  

This injunction was brought against Meijer by a woman known only as Eva (who conceived a child with his sperm) along with the Dutch Donor Child Foundation.

“I hope that this ruling leads to a ban on mass donation and spreads like an oil slick to other countries. We must stand hand in hand around our children and protect them against this injustice,” Eva said in a statement. 

According to the Associated Press, a statement from the court said that the donor “deliberately lied about this in order to persuade the parents to take him as a donor,” and that, “all these parents are now confronted with the fact that the children in their family are part of a huge kinship network, with hundreds of half-siblings, which they did not choose.” This, the court said, could lead to “negative psychosocial consequences for the children.”[]

The court then halted Meijer’s ability to donate further sperm. He was ordered to pay 100,000 euros per case if he were found in breach of the halt. 

Beyond the psychosocial consequences involved, there are health implications associated with serial donation.

"As a reproductive endocrinologist who frequently works with patients using donor sperm, I agree that mass donation is an unsafe practice that carries the risk of [not only] potential psychosocial [but] genetic implications."

Cynthia M. Murdock, MD, Illume Fertility

In fact, Murdock says, the cap on sperm donations according to population size is to avoid “inadvertent consanguineous conception, or offspring conceived by two people with a common sperm donor.” 

Offspring as a result of consanguineous unions, “may be at increased risk to genetic disorders because of the expression of autosomal recessive gene mutations inherited from a common ancestor,” according to the Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics.[] Given these implications, is the Dutch ruling fair? Susan Crockin, JD, a senior scholar at the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, and author of Legal Conceptions: The Evolving Law and Policy of Assisted Reproductive Technologies, says yes.

“​​It is appropriate and more than warranted,” Crockin says. “This was a donor who intentionally flouted the rules, disguising his identity to do so across a number of countries, and the numbers are simply staggering.”

Are there sperm donation limits in the United States?

Crockin says that there is a growing consensus around family size limits for gamete donation (both for sperm and egg) in the United States—and that the issue requires more attention. 

“While 550 donor-conceived offspring is an enormous aberration, the case shines a bright light on a problem that is being addressed, but absolutely deserves greater transparency for the donor-conceived as well as donors, and the children they are raising,” Crockin says. 

Crockin’s ideas? “A voluntary or mandated registry or mechanism to track donors and donor-conceived offspring could not only address maximum donation numbers but also track health-related and other concerns, helping ensure genetic and identity-related information is available for donor-conceived people, donors, and the children they are raising.”

Unlike places like the Netherlands, Germany, or the UK, where sperm donation is regulated in various ways (either around the number of times a donor can give sperm, the number of families a donor can give to, or the number of sperm banks a donor may work with), there is no such federal-level regulation in the United States. There are only recommendations for sperm donation limits. 

ASRM says suggestions are subject to change

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) states that not only should “institutions, clinics, and sperm banks…maintain sufficient records to allow a limit to be set for the number of pregnancies for which a given donor is responsible” but that “it has been suggested that in a population of 800,000, limiting a single donor to no more than 25 births would avoid any significant increased risk of inadvertent consanguineous conception.”[]

This suggestion could be subject to change, however, says the ASRM: “This suggestion may require modification if the population using donor insemination represents an isolated subgroup or if the specimens are distributed over a wide geographic area.”

ASRM also says, “It is difficult to provide a precise number of times that a given donor can be used because one must take into consideration the population base from which the donor is selected and the geographic area that may be served by a given donor.” While the United States has no comprehensive, national law around donor limitations, Crockin says that individual states do have the power to regulate sperm donation.

“In the US, family law is always a state law issue. In some states we are also seeing proposed legislation reflecting this trend toward accountability—but [it’s on] the individual state levels,” she says. 

The issue is still top of mind for the ASRM, adds Crockin. In fact, in 2022, the organization created a task force designed to address the needs and interests of donor-conceived people and their families.[]

What can you tell your patients?

As a physician, you should inform your patients seeking sperm donations to use the right sources, says Murdock. 

“I would advise any individual or couple considering donor conception to look closely at the practices of the sperm bank they intend to use to make sure there are limits to the number of donations a single donor can provide,” she says. “I also strongly advise against using sperm donors found through online forums or elsewhere on the internet. Donor screening is an important step in the conception process, and helps to ensure the best outcome for all involved.”

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