Monday, July 19, 2010

Want your baby to resemble your favorite celebrity? A Los Angeles sperm bank is already one step ahead.

California Cryobank, a clinic that has been in the fertility business for more than 30 years, has launched a celebrity-inspired service called “Donor Look-A-Like,” which allows clients to search for potential donors who mirror certain “actors, athletes, musicians, or anyone else famous enough to be found on the Web.”

The list includes performers such as Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Russell Crowe and Justin Timberlake. The site helpfully specifies that the Rob Lowe option is for the “(young)” model. Athletes on the list include golfer Tiger Woods, tennis player Andy Roddick, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and basketball player Jason Williams.

Scott Brown, communications director for Cryobank, insisted with a laugh, “We’re not trying to draft a basketball team.” He called the new service “a way of connecting the client to the donor.”

But, in an era when sex-selection abortion, in utero genetic manipulation and other techniques are raising concerns about a society that engineers and custom-designs children, Mr. Brown denied that his sperm bank’s service has anything in common with such “Brave New World” practices.

“This is not a designer baby factory,” he said. “We want to humanize the experience because we can’t show what the donor actually looks like.”

He acknowledged, however: “From the outside looking in, it may look like something that it is not.”

The service has been wildly popular among those searching for sperm donors, causing traffic to the clinic’s site to increase 400 percent. There is no additional fee for the “Donor Look-A-Like” service.

The service offers a wide range of potential celebrities. The perverse and the Hitchcock fans may prefer “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins, while the conservative intellectuals have the choice of National Review columnist Mark Steyn. And if you want your baby to grow up to look like someone known for cheating on his Oscar-winning wife and then getting dumped by her, Jesse James is available.

California law requires that sperm donors be anonymous, so clients were faced with the daunting task of choosing a donor with a basic “brown hair, blue eye” description. The celebrity look-alike was just one way to make the selection process easier, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown said genetics is difficult to “anticipate,” so the look-alike service is not guaranteed.

Most clients, he said, are not caught up with the idea of what the baby will look like but about whether the child will be healthy.

“People’s primary concern is having a healthy, happy baby, and the safety of the mother,” he said. “Guys don’t need to look like Ben Affleck to get into the program; they have to have high-quality sperm. Beyond that, there is a list of things [clients] are interested in.”

The clinic will be expanding its office in September to New York City, which Mr. Brown says is the “largest market for the sperm-making industry.”

Sperm donor applicants must go through a rigorous application process, which includes testing for sexually transmitted diseases and genetic disorders. All donors are required to be 5 feet, 9 inches or taller and have a university degree. The application process lasts six to nine months, and only 1 percent of applicants are accepted. There are between 100 and 150 active donors.

Once an anonymous donor has been accepted, staff members decide which celebrity he resembles most closely.

Clients then are given photos of the celebrities as visual aids. Not every celebrity included will look exactly alike, but the pictures are used as a “general idea.”

According to the Cryobank website, “Donor Look-a-Likes are judged to be the best of our subjective abilities. Whenever possible, more than one celebrity is listed to give you a better general sense of what the donor looks like.

“At times, two or more celebrities listed for a single donor may not necessarily resemble each other. In these cases, consider the fact that many people look like both their parents, without their parents actually looking like each other.”

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