Dutch court grants permission for DNA of fertility doctor who is suspected to have possibly fathered as many as 200 children to be tested

Suzi Denton, our expert in Fertility law, has published the below article for BioNews, a weekly publication about genetic, assisted conception and other related areas. Suzi reports on a recent case in the Netherlands of a fertility doctor who has been accused of substituting his own sperm when treating patients.

A Dutch court has granted permission for DNA tests to establish whether a deceased fertility doctor substituted his own sperm when treating patients.

Dr Jan Karbaat ran the Medisch Centrum Bijdorp fertility clinic near Rotterdam, Netherlands, and it is believed that he used his own sperm to conceive at least 47 children, although it could be as many as 200. The clinic was shut down in 2009 due to failure to meet storage standards and irregularities in paperwork.

The case was brought in 2017 by a group of 22 children who had been conceived at the Bijdorp clinic, along with 11 of their parents. They requested permission for Dr Karbaat’s DNA to be retrieved and compared against their own.

At the 2017 hearing, the court gave permission for Dr Karbaat’s DNA to be collected from various objects at his home, sealed and stored. However, it ruled that there was not enough evidence for it to be compared with the children’s DNA.

Dr Karbaat died in April 2017, one month before the start of the court proceedings. He always denied the allegations, and following his death, lawyers acting for his family strongly opposed any DNA testing, claiming that it would be an invasion of privacy.

However, in the ruling issued on 13 February the judge said: ‘If he [Dr Karbaat] did [use his own sperm], without announcing it at the time, his widow and other heirs cannot claim that the doctor’s anonymity should be respected.’

At the latest hearing, the court was satisfied that sufficient evidence had been provided to justify the testing of Dr Karbaat’s DNA. Since the 2017 proceedings, the doctor’s son volunteered his own DNA, allowing a ‘relevant biological relationship’ to be established with 47 people who were conceived at the clinic. According to CNN, the judge also observed that ‘a number of donor children have similarities in appearance’ to Dr Karbaat.

Under Dutch law, children born before 2004 are not entitled to know their donor’s identity, but the court has made an exception in this case, in light of the illegal nature of Dr Karbaat’s alleged behaviour. The court also said that the children would not have to wait for the outcome of a possible appeal before being able to test Dr Karbaat’s DNA.

Commenting on the outcome of last weeks’ hearing, one of the children, Merel-Lotte Heij, told the Guardian ‘every child has the right to know where he comes from’.

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