Uncommon Ancestry: Your Dad is My Dad?

Photo by JaredZammit (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Hazlitt, Alison Motluk writes on how fertility doctors impregnating their own clients is more common than you might think and on how the law around tracking sperm donors and donations is impotent against the problem.

Kat Palmer learned in grade nine biology that two blue-eyed parents can’t have a brown-eyed child. She thought that was curious, because she had brown eyes and both her parents had blue. But when she joked about it at home, she got a shock: her mother told her she’d been conceived at a fertility clinic, using sperm from an anonymous donor. The man she knew and loved as her dad was not her biological father.

Palmer knew she sort of looked like him, but she felt she looked like a lot of the Jewish men she knew, including her dad. The cousin helped her draft an email to Barwin, in which she used both genetics and genealogy to raise the possibility that he might be her biological father. She expected the doctor to ignore her, but he emailed back within the hour, with a phone number.

When she called him, about a week later, he was apologetic and baffled. He just couldn’t fathom how this had happened, he told her. The only thing he could think of was that he’d bought a new sperm counting machine that same year, and perhaps he had contaminated it when he was testing it with his own semen.

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