The strange case of Dr. Jan Karbaat

The Karbaat case has attracted significant media attention.

The case has attracted significant media attention.

On Wednesday of this week I went to Rotterdam to cover  the verdict being given in the trial of Dr. Jan Karbaat, a Dutch fertility doctor who’s suspected of using his own sperm on patients.

I’ve been following the donor-conceived community for months now and of all the stories to emerge–astonishing, unjust, dramatic, or plain sad–this one is the most outrageous.  When Karbaat wanted to obtain sperm for a patient he would simply go to another room, returning with a fresh sample. In reports, women have spoken of feeling violated now that it seems like the samples most likely came from the doctor himself. At the trial I talked to one mother who said he had conducted the inseminations so aggressively that she requested another physician.

It seems likely that Karbaat did many, many things that were unethical over the course of his long career, but this particular trial was about whether his DNA could be released, allowing people who think they may be descended from him to confirm whether that’s the case. The judge’s verdict was yes. She placed the rights of the now adult children to know about their origins over those of the late doctor to privacy. (Because the doctor wasn’t officially a sperm donor, however, the judge made clear that this doesn’t set a precedent for other donor-conceived people seeking info about their dads.) It’s just one step in a bigger series of cases. The next, the donor children’s lawyer, Tim Bueters, said, will be a request for compensation.

In the meantime, many questions remain open: Karbaat also sent donations abroad, so does this mean he could have descendants elsewhere in Europe? How does this compare with practices among fertility specialists in general during that era (1960s-2010’s)?

Let’s just say that the story won’t end here.

(I covered the case for RTE’s Drivetime, and you can hear the report here.)