CA Sperm Donor Rights Bill Stalls Despite Actor Jason Patric's Impassioned Plea

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Jason Patric

Members of Assembly’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday put off final action on the bill that began amid Patric's bitter custody battle with an ex-girlfriend.

An impassioned plea from actor Jason Patric Tuesday failed to convince the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee to immediately approve a bill giving some sperm donors the legal status to seek parental rights to the children they father.

The panel members voted 5-2 to hold the bill in committee for further discussion. With the end of the current legislative session upcoming Sept. 14, the measure’s author--Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo)—said he would continue negotiations over the bill’s specific language into the next session. The bill, SB 115, already has cleared the Senate and now requires approval by the full Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature to become law.

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The measure’s genesis is in a bitter custody dispute between Patric and his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, who conceived a now-three-year-old son, Gus, through in vitro fertilization using the actor’s sperm. Though the couple no longer were living together, Patric testified that he agreed to provide sperm out of affection for Schreiber. No documents were signed agreeing to joint parental rights, nor did the actor list himself as the father on the child’s birth certificate.

As he did in his testimony Tuesday, he has repeatedly asserted that he was involved in the boy’s life until Schreiber severed contact. She disputes that. When Patric went to court seeking to regain access to Gus, a judge ruled that, as a sperm donor without a signed parental agreement, he lacked standing to sue. Patric is now appealing the judge's ruling. Meanwhile, SB 115 would allow suits like Patric’s to move forward and be tried on their merits.

Appearing before the Assembly panel in Sacramento, the actor delivered deeply personal and highly emotional testimony in support of the measure.

"I've become a voice of an issue that I've never wanted to be a voice for and I could never even have dreamed I could be a part of," Patric told the legislators. "But I'm also here mainly because I have to be Gus' voice, my son."

Patric told the committee that he had been in a long, loving relationship with Schreiber. They had tried many times to conceive a child but their attempts had failed. "We did all the IVF and all the things and it destroyed the relationship but not the love," he testified. Although they had split up, Patric said, he agreed to try in vitro fertilization with Schreiber once more. As a result of their effort, Patric said, "that miracle was Gus."

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The actor told the committee that he has not been able to see or talk to his son in 25 weeks.

"It's not just my loss of that little boy in my lap, it's him thinking about -- with his furrowed little brow -- wondering what happened to his dad 25 weeks ago," Patric said. "I don't know what the threshold here is for how many children have to be in this situation... to make this an urgent clause . This is not about an easement, it's not about a trash bill, it's not about transportation. It is a child sitting daily wondering about what happened in the most severe form of alienation that one can imagine."

Fred Heather, a Schreiber's attorney, took issue with Patric's version of the events.

"I can assure you he never acted like a parent after the birth and never intended to be a parent prior to conception," Heather said told the committee. "While this case is on appeal, I don't believe it is appropriate for this committee to try and influence the outcome of that case. Although the issue that's being raised is one worthy of consideration…this proposal is not a clarification of existing law. It's written with the flimsiest and poorly defined standards that I can recall in a statute in a long, long time. This is going to create anxiety and problems."

Committee member Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento) agreed that more work needed to be done on the measure. "It’s premature from my point of view to have the Legislature take action on this issue,” he said.