A British scientist fathered up to 600 children after founding a fertility clinic that promised to provide sperm donors from ‘intelligent stock’, it emerged yesterday.
Biologist Bertold Wiesner supplied sperm to the partners of infertile men from the middle and upper classes, including ‘peers of the realm’.
His wife Mary Barton later destroyed medical records, meaning most of those conceived there – and their thousands of subsequent offspring – have no idea of their true family history and blood ties.
Family ties: Barry Stevens with a photograph of his father Bertold Wiesner
Half-brothers: Barry Stevens from Canada, left, and David Gollancz from London, right, were both conceived at the controversial Barton clinic and have discovered that Bertold Wiesner is their biological father
But two men conceived by artificial insemination at the practice, which operated from the early 1940s until the mid-1960s, have completed research suggesting up to two-thirds of sperm donations during that period were by Wiesner.
David Gollancz, one of Wiesner’s biological sons, estimated he would have made 20 donations a year, meaning he is likely to have fathered between 300 and 600 children.
The barrister found out in 1965, at the age of 12, that he was born from a sperm donor, but was never told who his biological father was.
He finally discovered the truth through DNA tests and has subsequently made contact with 11 of his half-siblings, including documentary-maker Barry Stevens, who led research into the clinic. Mr Gollancz said he had mixed feelings about his unusual family history.
Donor: It is believed that Bertold Wiesner may have fathered up to 600 children through donating sperm at the fertility clinic he founded with his wife Mary Barton in the 1940s
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.’
Wiesner and Barton’s clinic, based in London’s Portland Place, is believed to have helped women conceive around 1,500 babies known as the ‘Barton Brood’.
The high fees meant most of their clients were middle-class, but Barton also claimed to have helped many of the upper classes and even some ‘peers of the realm’.
The couple used family friends to provide sperm, but a shortage of donors is believed to have led to Wiesner providing the majority.
DNA tests were carried out in 2007 on 18 people conceived at the clinic between 1943 and 1962. The tests found that 12 of the group – two-thirds – were Wiesner’s children.
Dr Barton told a 1959 government forum on artificial insemination: ‘I matched race, colouring and stature and all donors were drawn from intelligent stock.’
She added: ‘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.’
An article the couple wrote in 1945 about their work prompted a peer to denounce their activities in the House of Lords as ‘the work of Beelzebub’.
Geoffrey Fisher, then Archbishop of Canterbury, also demanded the closure of the clinic.
Austrian-born Wiesner died in 1972, aged 70. His wife died 11 years ago.
Mr Gollancz was involved in a campaign to stop sperm donors being anonymous, but said he still wanted further changes in the law.
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.’