More than 20 children conceived with sperm from a fertility clinic run by the late Dr Jan Karbaat have won the right to have his DNA examined, after a court ruling in Rotterdam on Friday.

The judge ruled that samples from 27 items confiscated after Karbaat died in April can be used to create a DNA profile.

Karbaat, who died aged 89, has been accused of using his own sperm to father children through in vitro fertilisation at his clinic, the Medisch Centrum Bijdorp, which he ran from the back of his house in Barendrecht, near Rotterdam.

The clinic was closed in 2009 for failing to meet storage standards and irregularities concerning paperwork. But from the early 1980s to 2009, Dr Karbaat – head of the largest sperm bank in the Netherlands – granted the wishes of many desperate women who wanted to have a baby. In total, an estimated 10,000 children were conceived using in vitro fertilisation at his clinic.

However, Karbaat who billed himself as a "pioneer in the field of fertilisation" was not entirely honest about the sperm used to conceive the children.

Sperm donor shortages due to changes in Dutch law

Suspicions rose in early 2000s after a set of mismatched twins (one child was white and the other was not) was conceived at the clinic to a Caucasian couple.

The Dutch government began investigations and uncovered more discrepancies. Several families in online forums realised that their children all bore a striking resemblance to each other; subsequent testing revealed that over 40 children were related to a Surinamese man who had a 17-year history of donating at the clinic. This was despite regulations that stated no man may father more than six children.

Regulations governing the Dutch sperm industry in 1996 probably prompted Karbaat to take such unethical measures. That year, a law banning the payment of donors saw a marked decrease in the ability of all sperm clinics in the country to access fresh seed.

In 2004, another law was passed – requiring all clinics to release the identities of their donors to the children conceived upon reaching the age of 16 – hence, slowing down the flow of sperm donations to almost a halt. Karbaat's clinic was struggling to stay open.

Another disturbing detail: Resembling Karbaat himself

In 2009, when Karbaat's clinic was shut down due to poor document keeping, falsified records and clients being misinformed about the identity of their prospective donors. Six years later, a government commission declared that the record keeping was so bad that none of the donor's identities could be reliably determined under law.

Clients and children of the sperm bank began searching each other out online after the closing and realised a disturbing detail ̶ many of the children conceived at the clinic resembled Karbaat himself.

Several of the mothers also reported that Karbaat would leave the exam room to "get a fresh sample" and would return with sperm that they believe he had just created in the next room.

When Karbaat passed in April, a group of plaintiffs ̶ 12 adults and 10 parents of minors ̶ filed a lawsuit against the will of Karbaat's widow, to retrieve DNA from personal objects officials seized from his house to determine if he is the father.

“It’s a fundamental right to know where one came from,” the lawyer for the families, Tim Bueters, told the Rotterdam court. “It’s a question of identity, it helps someone to form their personality.”

Court rules for Karbaat's DNA profile to be created

The court had to take into account that the doctor asked that no DNA testing to be conducted upon his body in his will. But on 12 May, Karbaat's legal son voluntarily submitted his DNA to allow people to be tested against this.

Last week, 18 people conceived through donor sperm from the clinic were confirmed as almost certainly Karbaat's. It is estimated that Karbaat fathered 60 children in total.

One of his possible children, Moniek Wassenaar, 36, reportedly met the head of the sperm bank in 2010 and recounted that he had told her "it was possible I was his biological child".

He said he was proud of what he had done, saying “he was in good health and intelligent, so he could share some of his genes with the world. He saw it as something noble. He had no concept of ethics and minimised the impact on the children,” she added.

The court finally ruled on 2 June however, that Karbaat's own DNA can be examined from confiscated items but must be sealed due to the privacy of Karbaat's family. Any plaintiffs will need to start a new case to have their DNA tested against this. MIMS

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