Day 718: Ball-Busting Horror Stories From The Sperm Bank Vaults

originally published December 18, 2013

As one who has followed the somewhat boring and traditional path in raising a family, I admire those who carve their own onramp to the domestic highway, so long as they do so with the passion and commitment of quality parentage. Single mom? Single dad? Two moms? Two dads? Seven moms and three dads in some crazy pan-sexual feather-and-lace-wearing love-bond? Whatever suits you, as long as you don’t raise the kid to be an asshole.

I know very little about sperm banks, apart from what I’ve seen in movies and on sitcoms (notably unreliable sources for factual information), but I think I get the premise. People – usually men – show up and deposit their little swimmers. Some of those are acquired by women seeking the joys of motherhood, while others are sent underground to be incorporated into bizarre and morbid experiments, thus producing goons and henchmen for future evil villains who aim to take over the earth.

Again, I’m really not clear on the intricacies of these operations. But from what I understand, a woman acquiring sperm from such a source such is rolling the genetic dice. Recessive diseases and hereditary horror stories are part of the gamble, though I imagine reputable joints do a fairly thorough job of background-checking their donors. But in the 80’s and 90’s, the truly discriminating mother-to-hope-to-be might take a trip down to Escondido, California, and snag an emission from the Repository for Germinal Choice.

No one wants to find out that the biological father of their child was in fact some hobo named ‘Spoot’ who dropped off a donation in exchange for $30 in malt liquor money. At the Repository for Germinal Choice, the sperm that would battle it out for claimer’s rights in your nether regions would originate from the balls of a Nobel Prize winner, guaranteed. Well, not ‘guaranteed’. In fact, almost not at all.

Robert Klark Graham, a businessman and eugenics hobbyist who had earned a mountain of cash by inventing shatter-proof eyeglass lenses, opened the Repository in hopes of spreading around the seeds of the nation’s brightest minds. The media jumped all over this. Eugenics was not a new concept, and its proponents always made for a delightfully weird piece of news to slap at the end of the broadcast. But a sure-fire way to land a baby that was half-Nobel winner was front-page news.

Which is probably why the only Nobel winner they could land was this guy:

William Shockley’s work has had a tremendous effect on your life, as evidenced by the fact that you’re presently reading this article on a computer, tablet or phone. He invented the transistor, which paved the way for the rise of Silicon Valley in California, and earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1956. Shockley was also a staunch supporter in selective breeding, which is why when the media leapt all over Robert Graham’s bizarre sperm bank concept, Shockley did not back away. The other two Nobel winners that Graham had allegedly lined up for the gig took off before their names could be leaked.

So they had one Nobel winner. And Shockley only donated once. The ‘genius sperm bank’ was operating with a rather empty vault. Robert Graham sent his assistant, Paul Smith, around the country in search of academics who would be willing to volunteer their time and ejaculate for a good cause. The ‘Nobel’ tag could follow them in the media (it was good publicity), but in actuality they were happy to settle for brilliant scientists and academics. Or as Graham would put it, “the future Nobel laureates.”

And yes, this included donations from Graham himself.

So the bar was lowered a little. Graham still maintained a commitment to propagating the species with top-tier genes, and if that also meant respectable businessmen, athletes and artists, so be it. The women who received the donations were also expected to meet a standard – each was required to be a member of Mensa, the organization that allows admittance only to those with an IQ in the top 2%.

Well… that turned out to be more of a media “fact” than anything resembling an actual fact. Women were required to meet no criteria aside from good health. They also had to be married and heterosexual; Graham wasn’t about to compromise his conservative values in the future populace he aimed to create.

Very little is known about the 229 children who came to exist as a result of the Repository for Germinal Choice. We know that none of them were sired by William Shockley’s lone donation, meaning the ‘genius bank’ produced exactly zero Nobel juniors. The operation was shut down in 1999 after Robert Graham’s death.

Strange story… but the Repository has nothing on Dr. Cecil Jacobson.

Where Robert Graham felt the best and brightest among us were the ones who should sow the seeds of the next generation, Cecil Jacobson believed that he himself was the ideal captain for the ship.

Cecil’s reputation was always a smidgen on the gunky side of academic. In med school he’d claimed to have impregnated a male baboon by plunking a fertilized egg into his abdominal cavity. He then asserted that he’d terminated the pregnancy after four months. Nothing was published in any medical journal, most likely because he made the whole thing up.

While working at a fertility clinic in Fairfax County, Virginia, Cecil would inject women with the hormone hCG (which is naturally released during pregnancy). The women would test positive as pregnant, and even begin to undergo the expected physical changes. Cecil would perform ultrasounds and show off the grainy fetus to the proud parents-to-be. Except that most of the time the women weren’t pregnant, they were simply reacting to the hormone. And the fetuses? They were internal organs or sometimes feces.

That’s right – Cecil would pass off poop as a baby. Oh, but it gets worse.

While Cecil was on trial for these bogus false pregnancies, another little anecdote from his professional doings was revealed. Many of his patients had been artificially inseminated through donors Cecil had screened. No records of these donors existed, and genetic testing revealed that the father was… Cecil himself. DNA tests linked him to fifteen such children, and it’s estimated that he may have fathered as many as 75 kids this way. One of the confirmed cases included a woman who had believed she was inseminated by sperm from her husband.

Cecil tried to deny everything in court, claiming an honest mis-reading of the results in the false pregnancy cases, and swearing the anonymous donors did exist in the insemination cases. Sure, he stepped in sometimes and donated his own goodies when the donor didn’t show up, but come on! He’s good people! Oh, and that woman who thought she’d been knocked up by her husband’s sperm? Cross-contamination in the lab. An honest goof.

Five years in the joint and a yanked medical license – that’s what Cecil got for his crimes. And I’m betting he doesn’t receive a whole lot of cards on Father’s Day.

Do your research, prospective moms and dads. It’s a weird world out there.

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