May 20, 2024

What about the super-sperm-spreaders?

Who are the modern equivalents of Genghis Khan?

Visitors to the Genghis Khan Monument at Zonjin Boldog, Mongolia.

A controversial genetic study published in 2003 suggested that one in every 200 men alive today is a descendant of Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. In central Asia, this figure rises to about 8% — or about 16 million men.

Impossible today? Not so fast. There were superspreaders, to borrow from the jargon of Covid-19 news, who spread their genes far and wide in the 60s, 70s and 80s of the last century – but they’re called doctors, not warlords. Is there any research into the consequences of this phenomenon?

The latest two cases to come to the attention of BioEdge come from South Africa and the United States.

Fiona Darroch writes in The Guardian about her discovery at the age of 52 that her biological father was really a South African fertility doctor named Tony Walker. It appears that “he had assisted more than 100 families in this way, many with multiple children”.

“We believe, based on what we could find out from the clinic staff, that he used his own sperm for at least 100 families, some with multiple, so we’ve probably got between 200 to 300 siblings from what we can calculate,” Ms Darroch told SBS. Her siblings are scattered across the globe, in the United States, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and the UK.

Dr Walker committed suicide in 1977 at the age of 62, so he cannot offer shed more light on this issue.

And in small city in central western Oregon, another doctor has discovered that he is father to at least 19 children. When Dr Bryce Cleary opened an account with, he learned that a number of people had identified him as their biological father. He had donated sperm when he was a medical student in the 1980s. According to the Washington Post, many of his children “lived within two hours of his home, and that he may never really know how many donor children exist”.

These are not isolated cases.

Last year Dr Norman Barwin was formally deregistered in Canada for inseminating his patients with his own sperm or the sperm of unknown men. He was a recipient of the Order of Canada and several honorary doctorates, and a former president of Canadians for Choice, the Canadian Fertility Society, Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and Planned Parenthood Ottawa. It appears that between 50 and 100 children were conceived after their mothers received the wrong semen. Of these 11 have been genetically matched to Barwin through DNA testing.

Dr Donald Cline, of Indianapolis, impregnated at least three dozen women in the 1970s and 1980s. More than 60 people claim he is their biological father.

A Dutch doctor, Dr. Jan Karbaat, is believed to have fathered 56 children for women who visited his clinic in Rotterdam between 1980 and 2009.

Then there was Dr Bertold Wiesner, who operated on a scale to rival Genghis Khan. It is believed that he sired 600 children for women who visited his London clinic in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Dov Fox, a bioethicist at the University of San Diego and the author of Birth Rights and Wrongs, summed up the bizarre trend in a single word: “gross”. “In a couple more: shocking, shameful. The number of doctors sounds less like a few bad apples and more like a generalized practice of deception, largely hidden until recently by a mix of low-tech and high stigma.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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