A British scientist who set up a fertility clinic in the 1940s may have fathered 600 children by donating his own sperm. Biologist Bertold Wiesner supplied his sperm to partners of infertile men mostly from the middle and upper classes.
The story of Wiesner's fertility clinic that operated from the early 1940s until the mid-1960s was uncovered by two men conceived through artificial insemination at the clinic. They concluded from their research that Wiesner, who promised to supply his clients sperm from "intelligent stock," donated two-thirds of the sperm used at his fertility clinic. The balance of donations was from a select circle of his friends.
Austrian-born Wiesner, operated the clinic with his wife Mary Barton, who later destroyed medical records relating to their sources of donated sperm. This made it difficult to trace blood ties of persons conceived by artificial insemination at the clinic.
The clinic based in Portland Place in London is estimated to have produced about 1,500 babies known together as the "Barton Brood."
According to David Gollandz, a London Barrister, who was conceived at the clinic, Wiesner could have made up to 20 donations to his own fertility clinic in a year and fathered an estimated 300 to 600 children, or even as many as 1000. According to Daily Mail, Gollancz, at the age of 12, discovered he was born from a sperm donor but was not told his biological father. He finally discovered his biological father through DNA tests and contacted 11 of his half-siblings, one of whom included a Canadian film-maker Barry Stevens.
The Telegraph reports DNA tests carried out in 2007 on 18 people conceived at the clinic between 1943 and 1962, found that 12 were Wiesner's children. Extrapolating from the result led to the suggestion that Weisner may have fathered up to 600 children by artificial insemination.
According to Gollancz: “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, including allowances for twins and miscarriages, I estimate that he is responsible for between 300 and 600 children.”
The Sun reports the film-maker Stevens, said: "He was the one that found the donors so it's possible he didn't tell his wife and she believed the donations were coming from a lot of different men."
Wiesner's wife, Barton, addressing a government forum, said: "I matched race, coloring and stature and all donors were drawn from intelligent stock. 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."
In 1945, Wiesner and Barton wrote an article about their work that led to a peer denouncing their practice in the House of Lords as the "work of Beelzebub." Other prominent people, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, demanded that the clinic be closed, Daily Mail reports.
Daily Mail reports Gollancz said he feels uncomfortable with the facts his research has uncovered. 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."
Daily Mail reports Gollancz has been involved in a campaign to change sperm donor laws. He has campaigned to stop the practice of sperm donors being anonymous. 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."
According to The Telegraph, Weisner's practice of supplying sperm for so many artificial inseminations has been outlawed. Current laws do not allow sperm from a single donor be used in many artificial inseminations. But when Weisner was operating his clinic, it was not known that he was supplying much of the sperm his clinic was using.
The Telegraph reports the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act limits the number of families a sperm or egg donor could provide for to ten families. Sperm donors are required to be between 18 and 41years of age and information about the donor must be kept so that the children can apply to identify their biological father and siblings after they turn 18.
About 2,000 children are born every year in Britain using sperm and eggs from donors.
Wiesner died in 1972 at the age of 70. His wife died 11 years ago.