A man with an incurable genetic condition who advertised his sperm to lesbians on social media has been banned from contacting some of the children he fathered as a result.
A family court judge took the unusual step of naming James MacDougall after finding he “took advantage of these young women’s vulnerability and their strong desire to have children”.
Mrs Justice Lieven said there was “a very specific benefit in him being named in the hope that women will look him up on the internet and see this judgment”.
MacDougall, 37, has fragile-X syndrome, a genetic condition that causes a range of developmental problems including learning difficulties and cognitive impairment. The judge described him as “a complex person” who has been diagnosed as having learning difficulties and being on the autistic spectrum.
The family court heard he placed an advert as a potential sperm donor on a social media page for lesbian women seeking donors. He claims to have ended up fathering 15 children as a result, all aged between nearly four and a few months old – some of whom he was applying to the court for parental responsibility for, or contact with.
Three of the mothers are vehemently opposed to MacDougall having anything to do with four children he had fathered. All were in their early 20s and in lesbian relationships when they got pregnant; one has learning difficulties and “came across as being extremely vulnerable” in court, the judge said.
Doctors have shown significant concerns about the development of one of the children, who is still not verbal aged three and is “behaviourally challenging”. Sheffield children’s services department is investigating allegations that MacDougall caused bruises to another of the children, the court heard.
Lieven found that MacDougall showed “fundamental irresponsibility” by not being upfront about his condition, which prevented him from being a sperm donor through a regulated clinic.
It was mentioned in at least two of the legal agreements signed by the mothers but without any explanation of the consequences of fragile-X. But the agreement was a “closely spaced three-page document in highly legalistic language which is difficult to read even for a lawyer”, the judge said.
One of the mothers said she had difficulty reading and did not get as far as page three of the agreement, where the condition was listed. Another mother said she did read more of the document but either did not see or did not appreciate the significance of the reference to fragile-X.
“Although the agreement does refer to fragile-X, [MacDougall] took no steps to explain the condition to [the women] and no steps to ensure they understood. [He] took advantage of these young women’s vulnerability and their strong desire to have children.
“This failure to take responsibility for his own condition and to have any apparent concern for the long-term impact both on the mothers and potentially the children, is a factor in concluding that [he] should not be given parental responsibility for the children,” the judge ruled.
Lieven said the women were irresponsible to use MacDougall as a sperm donor without making proper inquiries about his health record, but were desperate for children.
She refused MacDougall’s application for parental responsibility and contact with the children, and authorized him to be named, saying: “I have no confidence that he will not act as a sperm donor in the future.
“I equally have no confidence in him fully explaining to any woman the true implications of his fragile-X syndrome. There is therefore a very specific benefit in him being named in the hope that women will look him up on the internet and see this judgment.”