The largest sperm bank in England is under investigation this week, facing accusations of eugenics, or attempting to genetically improve the human race.

The London Sperm Bank produced leaflets, admitting to screening donors for “neurological conditions,” including dyslexia, ADHD, autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Fertility regulators in the country have launched a review, claiming that the policy discriminates against thousands of donors. “There’s a big ethical question here,” Medical Ethicist Art Caplan said in a recent interview with Boston Public Radio. “If you have hemophilia or some fatal disease, you don’t want to pass that on, so that makes sense. But when we start picking out the traits just because someone doesn’t like freckles or premature baldness—how bad of a disease does it have to be for us to say that it’s okay to pick from too?”

“They’re screening for things that maybe aren’t diseases, they’re just differences,” Caplan said. “Maybe they’re actually things that might be advantageous, but just not that popular, like Asperger’s. Maybe you’re a little socially awkward, but you’re mathematically, economically, or entrepreneurially very smart.”

According to Caplan, sperm banks in Massachusetts give clients a searchable database to pick from. “They give you a mug-book,” he said, “and people will say, ooh look! he says he’s a seven foot Ukrainian mathematician-tennis player, I want him.”

The process of picking and choosing traits can get tricky, Caplan says, especially when clients can’t be sure exactly what will be passed on. “It’s not clear how genetic dyslexia or Asperger's are,” Caplan said. “You don’t really know if it was going to be passed on.”

The sperm bank also makes the assumption that the donor will be telling the truth, since these conditions are generally difficult—or even impossible— to spot on a test. “If I say I’m not dyslexic, how hard does the sperm bank try to prove that? Not very hard,” Caplan said. “I could say I’m the healthiest human being on earth, if you can’t do some simple tests to test the sperm, you’re not going to see these complicated things.”

The fertility industry, Caplan says, grew up as a private commercial enterprise, and acts in accordance with the marketplace, which means there is very little in terms of legal regulation. “There are laws that say they have to screen the donors for communicable diseases, say, HIV, beyond that, it’s a business,” Caplan said. “That’s partly because the whole infertility field grew up without federal funding and without a lot of research because of all of those fights about what to do with embryos and the repugnance in some quarters about having infertility treatment at all.”

Viewing fertility as a marketplace introduces yet more ethical questions, like satisfaction with the product. “If you cut out all the autistic donors and then you have an autistic baby, do you sue the clinic? Do you return the baby?” Caplan said. “In life, you have to deal with a certain degree of uncertainty, why should it be better at the sperm bank?

Medical Ethicist Art Caplan is Head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and the co-host of theEveryday Ethics podcast. To hear more of his interview with BPR, click on the audio link above.