Did Sperm Bank Founder Father 600 Children?

PHOTO: Embryo being artificially fertilized

A British sperm bank founder who guaranteed his customers sperm from "above average" donors apparently made good on his promise by secretly using his own sperm, and may have fathered as many as 600 children in the process.

Austrian-born biologist Bertold Wiesner and his wife, Dr. Mary Barton, created the London-based Barton clinic in the early 1940s. By the time the clinic shut its doors in the 1960s, the couple had used artificial insemination to help infertile middle and upper-class couples produce about 1,500 children. Dr. Barton said in the 1950s that she and her husband guaranteed that "all donors were drawn from intelligent stock" and no donors were accepted unless they were "a little above average."

Wiesner died in 1972 and his wife died ten years later. Dr. Barton destroyed all the clinic's medical records before her death. The couple had supposedly used sperm donations from their family friends to impregnate clients, with an attempt to match the physical characteristics of the clients.

DNA tests conducted on 18 people conceived at the clinic between 1943 and 1962, however, found that Wiesner was the father of 12.

According to reports in the British media, one of Wiesner's biological offspring, David Gollancz, has established contact with 11 other children produced with Wiesner's sperm. Gollancz told London's Sunday Times that Wiesner could have provided at least 20 samples per year over the life of the clinic, meaning he could have fathered 300 to 600 children.

"Using standard figures for the number of live births which result, including allowances for twins and miscarriages," said Gollancz, "I estimate that he is responsible for between 300 and 600 children."

In 1990, the British government placed a limit on the number of families that could receive sperm from the same donor. Information on the identity and medical history of the donors is now stored in case it is desired or needed by the children produced via the sperm.

Wiesner's practice of secretly using his own sperm is now outlawed, in part due to the danger that two of his offspring might meet unknowingly and have children of their own.

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