Paul Smith is the great eccentric and true believer of the genius sperm bank cause. He has been hooked on the sperm banking idea since he heard about Hermann Muller in the early '60s.
"For 40 years I have had the feeling I am doing something that will make a difference. It is not a matter of changing the whole profile of genetics in the U.S. But it is providing a few more potentially great people, one genome at a time."
Smith came to Graham after spending more than 10 years in exile in England fleeing the Vietnam draft. When Graham jettisoned him from the repository, Smith never even considered abandoning sperm banking. He took the repository donors with him and started Heredity Choice, which he and his wife now run out of their desert home in Pearblossom, Calif.—a 10-acre spread shared with the border collies and huskies they breed and the potbellied pigs they have rescued. (His wife, Adonna Frankel, is committed to the cause as well. She was a client of Heredity Choice before they met: She froze embryos made from her eggs and Heredity Choice's genius sperm. She and Smith hope to use those embryos to have their own kids.)
Smith—who looks like a gaunter version of Ed Harris, if such a thing is possible—has a very peculiar manner. He frequently zones out during conversation or starts talking about an unrelated subject. When it happens, his wife gives him a friendly tug and yanks him back to earth. Still, he's very charming, mostly because he is the only person associated with the repository who seems to have a sense of humor.
Smith estimates that Heredity Choice has produced "hundreds of kids, many more than the repository did."
It is, however, the only sperm bank the state of California has ever closed. The state tissue bank inspection unit forced Smith to shut Heredity Choice a few years ago because he had no running water for his lab and was storing human and dog semen together.
Smith insists that he does not need running water because he uses purified water, and that the dog/human charge has been sensationalized. He claims he had only one set of dog semen samples, they were kept in a separate liquid nitrogen tank, and he stored them in a different kind of vial.
All the same, the image of dog and human sperm mingling sticks in the brain. Smith didn't help matters when he told reporters that "none of my clients has ever had a puppy." The reporters did not get the joke.
The shutdown didn't deter Smith. He simply transferred his sperm storage to Nevada, which has no regulations about sperm banking.
Smith accepts that the world has not embraced his cause. He once hoped that others would follow him into genius sperm banking, but no one has. He has only eight donors for Heredity Choice because it is too expensive to find and test new ones. Still, he hasn't lost his good cheer: At the end of our interview, as I was saying goodbye, he and Adonna asked me to put them in touch with Bill Gates. They would like him as a donor. "I don't think much of his operating system," Smith said, "but I would like his sperm."