CREDIT: ANDY WONG
The head of a Dutch fertility clinic has been accused of using his own sperm instead of that of chosen donors to father dozens of children.
Twenty-three parents and children of those born through IVF treatment from the Bijdorp medical centre, near Rotterdam, have gone to court to ask for tests on the DNA of Jan Karbaat, who died aged 89 last month.
Karbaat ran one of the country’s largest sperm banks in the 1980s and 1990s, billed himself as “a pioneer in the field of fertilisation”.
But reports began to emerge last year that suggested he may have been fathering the children he helped to conceive – in a plot twist that has echoes of Glasgow crime drama Taggart.
Women who used the clinic report being told by Karbaat that he was getting “fresh seed” from a room next to the insemination area, and say they have noticed physical similarities between Karbaat and their children, including eye colour, that don’t match with their official donor’s characteristics.
Karbaat reportedly admitted to having fathered about 60 children in his time at the clinic, which closed in 2009 amid reports of irregularities, and requested in his will that no DNA tests be carried out on him post-mortem.
“They say it feels like they were raped by Karbaat,” the lawyer for the families Tim Bueters told Dutch newspaper the Algemeen Dagblad.
He asked the court for permission for DNA tests on Karbaat, saying: “It’s a fundamental right to know where you came from. It’s a question of identity [and] helps someone to form their personality.”
But Lisette de Haan, the lawyer for Karbaat’s family, asked the court to respect the Karbaat family’s right to privacy and countered: “There is not the slightest evidence that Mr Karbaat was the donor.”
Monique Wassenaar, one of the plaintiffs, claims he told her about the possibility he may have fathered children at the clinic himself and that she has this evidence in an email, according to Dutch media reports.
At the request of the families, court officials have already seized personal objects such as a toothbrush from his home. DNA tests on these would be the preferred option, but the court could order a test on one of his legitimate children or call for the body to be exhumed.
“As a mother, this judgement won’t give me anything,” said Esther Heij, one of the plaintiffs, after the hearing.
“But I see at home how my son’s life has been affected. He was so angry when Karbaat died, and that he was taking this to his grave.”
On paper, her son and daughter were conceived by the same sperm donor. “Tests are under way, but it’s not clear if they really are brother and sister.”
Ms Wassenaar, 36, who also attended the hearing, said Karbaat told her he was proud of his actions: “He [thought he] was in good health and intelligent, so he could share some of his genes with the world,” she said. “He saw it as something noble. He had no concept of ethics and minimised the impact on the children.”
Karbaat allegedly falsified his clinic’s data, analyses and donor descriptions and exceeded the permitted number of six children per donor. The court will return judgement on June 2.