By Jonathon Van Maren
Back in 2011, the New York Times released an investigative report titled “One sperm donor, 150 offspring,” detailing one of the weirder pitfalls of artificial insemination as a reproductive technology:
Cynthia Daily and her partner used a sperm donor to conceive a baby seven years ago, and they hoped that one day their son would get to know some of his half siblings — an extended family of sorts for modern times. So Ms. Daily searched a Web-based registry for other children fathered by the same donor and helped to create an online group to track them. Over the years, she watched the number of children in her son’s group grow. And grow.
Today there are 150 children, all conceived with sperm from one donor, in this group of half siblings, and more are on the way. “It’s wild when we see them all together — they all look alike,” said Ms. Daily, 48, a social worker in the Washington area who sometimes vacations with other families in her son’s group …Now, there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.
Since then, such stories have become increasingly common — and indeed, many fertility doctors have been accused and convicted of fraud for using their own semen to artificially inseminate patients. Dr. Donald Cline of Indiana conceived at least 60 children at his fertility clinic (he was convicted of fraud); Dr. Cecil Jacobsen of Virginia fathered a minimum of 15 children in this fashion (he was also convicted); and at least 10 other American doctors have been accused, in court, of what is being referred to as “fertility fraud.”
There is historical precedent for this. A recent report at BioEdge by Michael Cook titled “A Genghis Khan for the Modern Age” noted that the famous warrior reputedly fathered between 1,000 and 2,000 children, with an estimated “1 in 200 men alive today” carrying Khan’s genes. As it turns out, “a close second is Bertold Wiesner, an Austrian Jewish physiologist who married a British obstetrician, Mary Barton.” The couple “collaborated scientifically and biologically on artificial insemination” at their Barton Clinic in London from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s, which promised to supply customers with “intelligent stock.”