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Video: L.A. sperm bank filters donors by celeb look-alikes

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TODAY contributor
updated 10/12/2009 11:11:09 AM ET 2009-10-12T15:11:09

Want to have Ben Affleck’s baby? While that appears to be the exclusive domain of Jennifer Garner, women can now at least give themselves a fighting chance of having a child who looks like a movie star, sports hero or world leader.

A Southern California sperm bank has taken to matching its donors to the celebrities they most resemble, putting an actual image to a process that previously had prospective parents sort through an often confusing jumble of printed characteristics, from ethnicity to eye color.

“It’s not that our donors look like celebrities, it’s that celebrities look like our donors,” California Cryobank’s communication manager Scott Brown told NBC’s Lee Cowan in a report that aired on TODAY Friday.

Browsing the Ben bin
It’s easy for a woman (or a man, in the case of a gay couple exploring having a child through surrogacy) to scroll through the cryobank’s Web site and find a donor who may look like the pinup poster they once had in their bedroom. In the “Ben” category alone, prospective parents can choose among sperm donors who supposedly resemble Affleck, Chaplin, Foster, Harper, McKenzie, Bratt, Stiller, Savage or Roethlisberger.

And America is all about choice, so you can opt for either the young or old versions of Russell Crowe and Timothy Hutton.

Want your child to resemble a retired star football quarterback? Vinny Testaverde and Warren Moon are on the list. And for parents who would like nothing so much as to have a child who looks like a journeyman baseball pitcher, Chan Ho Park is available.

Wolfgang Van Halen, who already looks like a perfect amalgamation of his parents, Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli, is also there for the taking.

You can even have a Seth Rogen or “Jackass” star Steve-O look-alike.

An inexact science
Brown is the first to admit that the matching of sperm donors to famous people is far from an exact science. Instead of using sophisticated face-recognition gear, Brown and a panel at the Cryobank simply put pictures of their existing roster of sperm donors up on a big screen while they vigorously debate who the person most looks like.

Given the fact the judges are based in Los Angeles, some subjective hometown bias seems to seep into the process. The sperm bank contains a mix of celebrities, seemingly heavy on former UCLA basketball players and other Southern California sports stars and, of course, with Hollywood at their doorstep, plenty of actors, from the A- to D-lists. William Katt, anyone?

The program has its share of critics, especially in the bioethics world. University of Albany professor Bonnie Steinbock bashed California Cryobank’s celebrity-match program on CNN, saying, “There’s something strange about a culture that has stratified rigid types of beauty where everyone looks alike; now they’re trying to create children through who the actor of the moment is.”

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Not so, says Brown. While the process may seem superficial, it is actually extremely helpful in guiding prospective parents through a stressful and often confusing time, he asserts.

“I think the public perception is ‘baby shopping,’ and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he told NBC.

By law, donors have to remain anonymous, and prospective parents are not allowed a look at the man who’s donating, Brown says. But by matching that donor to a face that is easily recognizable, the parents-to-be at least have some idea what gene pool they’re dipping into.

Someday her Prinze will come
And it’s already helping. One prospective mom told NBC that the process of selecting a donor had been mind-numbing for her. “I’m flipping through the catalog with a friend of mine, feeling like I was about to recruit a basketball team, because it was just all stats.” And while she whittled down her list, the Cryobank couldn’t show her a picture of the donor — but it could tell her one of her finalists resembled Freddie Prinze Jr.

“For me, that clinched it right then and there,” she said. “I’ve always found him attractive!”

Brown says the sperm bank’s clientele is 40 percent infertile couples and 60 percent single women or gay couples. And of course, in a litigious society, the California Cryobank is sure to list disclaimers before clients begin the process of bringing their own little Bradley Coopers into the world. “No celebrity is meant as an exact match for any donor, nor should you assume that your future children will look like any celebrity listed,” the site warns.

NBC’s Cowan learned what a strange, brave new world he was entering when sitting in on a face-matching meeting at the Cryobank. The panel was actively trying to match a donor to Cowan’s own face.

So, while Brad Pitt may not yet be available, parents who want their child to have a chance of looking like an intrepid reporter will now have that opportunity.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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