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Scientist allegedly fathered 600 children at own sperm clinic

16 April 2012
Appeared in BioNews 652

A British scientist who ran a fertility clinic in London from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, used his own sperm and may have fathered hundreds of children, it has been claimed.

The Barton clinic, run by Dr Bertold Wiesner and his wife Dr Mary Barton helped to conceive around 1,500 children. Genetic tests carried out on 18 of these people in 2007 showed that two thirds were Dr Wiesner's biological children.

Now, two of the children conceived at the clinic, Mr David Gollancz, a barrister from London, and Mr Barry Stevens, a film maker from Canada, have extrapolated this figure to suggest he could have fathered up to 600 children. They are currently making a documentary about donor-conceived children.

'A conservative estimate is that he would have been making 20 donations a year', Gollancz told the Sunday Times. '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'.

According to Dr Allan Pacey, an expert in male fertility at University of Sheffield, this is 'plausible' as a healthy man could make up to 50 donations a year.

However, current legislation restricts the number of donations a man can make, due to the risk of two offspring meeting, as their children could have serious genetic problems. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act states that each donor can create up to ten families; there are no restrictions on the number of children per family.

It is believed that due to a shortage of donors Dr Wiesner provided the majority of samples.

The Barton Clinic promised to provide sperm only from 'intelligent' donors, and many of the donations were supplied by family friends. In 2001, one donor, neurochemist Derek Richter, was found to have fathered over 100 children through the Barton Clinic.

According to the Huffington Post, Dr Barton destroyed the clinic's medical records and so those conceived through donations made at the Barton Clinic have no way of finding details about their biological father. Dr Wiesner died in 1972 and Dr Barton later in 2001.

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