It was found that a sperm donor may have fathered up to 600 children in a baby clinic he ran with his wife.
Bertold Wiesner and Mary Barton’s controversial clinic for high IQ donors helped women conceive more than 1,500 babies. Now two of the children conceived from the clinic discovered they are Wiesner’s biological sons and have found that he fathered hundreds of other children.
One of the men, London-based barrister David Gollancz, estimates Wiesner is responsible for 300-600 children. But Canadian filmmaker Barry Stevens, believes the true number could be 1,000.
Mr Stevens and Mr Gollancz were both conceived by artificial insemination at the clinic and the pair have produced research that they claim proves Wiesner made two-thirds of all donations. DNA tests carried out in 2007 on 18 people conceived at the clinic between 1943 and 1962 showed 12 were Wiesner’s children.
The Barton Clinic, set up in London in the 40s, was highly controversial because it used a small number of specially-selected highly intelligent men as donors. Dr Barton told a 1959 government forum on artificial insemination, “I matched race, coloring and stature and all donors were drawn from intelligent stock.” She added, “I wouldn’t take a donor unless he was, if anything, a little above average. If you are going to do it [create a child] deliberately, you have got to put the standards rather higher than normal.” An article the couple wrote in 1945 about their work prompted a peer to denounce their activities in the House of Lords as ‘the work of Beelzebub’. Geoffrey Fisher, then Archbishop of Canterbury, also demanded the closure of the clinic.
Mr Gollancz said, “A conservative estimate is that he would have been making 20 donations a year. Using standard figures for the number of live births which result, I estimate he is responsible for 300 and 600 children.” Mr Stevens believes it could be 1,000 – but even 600 would beat previous records. Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, said Mr Gollancz’s calculation was “plausible” adding that a healthy man could make up to 50 donations a year.
Wiesner died in 1972 but Barton, who is also dead, previously said she limited the number of donations he made. But Mr Stevens said, “He was the one that found the donors so it’s possible that he didn’t tell his wife and she believed the donations were coming from a lot of different men.” Mary Barton later destroyed medical records, meaning most of those conceived there – and their thousands of subsequent offspring – have no idea of their true family history and blood ties.
Mr Gollancz said he had mixed feelings about his unusual family history. He said, “It’s rather uncomfortable, because artificial insemination was developed on an industrial scale for cattle and I don’t like the feeling of having been ‘bred’. But meeting the half siblings that I have tracked down has been a very life-enriching experience. This does make it frustrating too, because I know there are all those other siblings out there who I don’t know but would really like to meet. I’d love to be able to hire a huge marquee and invite them all to a party.”
Current guidelines dictate sperm from British donors can be used for a maximum of 10 families, with no limit on the number of babies within those families. A commission in 1948 said artificial insemination should be banned.
Mr Gollancz was involved in a campaign to stop sperm donors being anonymous, but said he still wanted further changes in the law. He said, “I would like to see birth certificates also carrying the name of the sperm or egg donor. Most recipient parents don’t tell their children they are conceived this way, meaning they would never know to search for a donor father. People have a right to know about their own history.”