600 Siblings? How One Man Proved We Need Limits On Sperm Donation

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Sperm DonationThis past fall, one man inspired outrage and confusion when we found out that he had fathered over 150 kids. In September, The New York Times wrote about a woman, conceived from a sperm donor, who went looking for her siblings only to find that she could have as many as 149 of them. The entire country was suddenly talking about restrictions on how many times a single man’s sperm can be used to help families have children.

Now, a British man is one-upping the previous concern, possibly fathering up to four times the number of kids. Bertold Wiesner operated a fertility clinic with his wife in London. They opened the clinic in the 1940s and helped bring over 1500 little ones into the world. However, researchers are beginning to suspect that roughly two-thirds of those children came from sperm donated by Mr. Wiesner himself.

David Gollancz, one of the men born from Wiesner’s DNA told The Sunday Times, “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.”

Currently, Great Britain has rules in place to make sure that this type of situation doesn’t occur again. The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act limits the number of children created from any one sperm donor to ten. It also tracks each father so that a child may look up their parents or half-siblings at the age of 18. Obviously, these rules weren’t around from 1942 to 1963 when Wiesner and his wife were running their clinic.

But, his case proves why countries like the US need to take Britain’s cue and create responsible restrictions for fertility clinics and sperm donation. As it is, there could be 600 siblings in the country who don’t know each other. They could meet, fall in love and get married. They work together or compete against each other without ever knowing their connection. It’s an dizzying and possibly problematic situation to find yourself in, 1 of 600.

I’m a supporter of fertility clinics and reproductive technology. I think it’s admirable the people who donate sperm or eggs to help other couples conceive children. As a woman struggling for infertility, I’m thankful that this technology is available. But I don’t think we should let the wonder or birth blind us to the necessary ethical questions like how many children should one person father? Especially when those kids might never know that they were conceived through alternative measures.

This bizarre story didn’t happen in the US. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take it seriously or we shouldn’t learn from it. We can’t assume to know why Mr. Wiesner chose to father so many children. It could have been an enormously huge ego or maybe he just couldn’t find donors at a time when reproductive technology was less main-stream. It doesn’t really matter the cause. It happened. There are 600 blood relatives who don’t know each other. That should be enough to scare all of us into action to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

(Photo: Thinkstock)