A man says he has been left devastated after a leading fertility clinic used his sperm against his wishes to father nine children with same-sex couples and single women.
Neil Gaskell told Care Fertility in Manchester – which describes itself as ‘one of the world’s leading providers’ of IVF – that he wanted his sperm to go only to heterosexual couples when he agreed to become a donor in 2010.
But clinic officials were forced to confess that ‘mistakes had been made’ when an official audit by the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), revealed five children had been born to three same-sex couples, including a set of twins, using Mr Gaskell’s sperm.
The 49-year-old was also told that he was the biological father to 13 children in total – including a further four born to three single women and four more to heterosexual couples.
Neil Gaskell (pictured with paperwork from his four-year legal battle) told Care Fertility in Manchester he wanted his sperm to go only to heterosexual couples when he agreed to become a donor in 2010
Mr Gaskell, who accepts his views will be divisive, was adamant any resulting children from his sperm should have the advantage of a father figure.
An official donor consent form made clear the restrictions he wished to place on his donation.
As a result of the blunders, the clinic – which has more than 20 units across the country – has now paid Mr Gaskell a five-figure sum following a four-year legal battle which was settled out of court.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Mr Gaskell told how:
- The clinic used his sperm to create 11 families when the HFEA’s rules only permit a maximum of ten from a single donor;
- He was told by the clinic he had ‘Superman-strength sperm’ and was asked to become a donor to help others;
- He was left ‘shocked and numb’ to discover he had fathered 13 children via the clinic when he claims he was told it was more likely to be ‘two or three’;
- Clinic staff initially told him there were 12 children but a further child came to light after a request for information to the HFEA;
- His sperm had also been used to help single women conceive despite his belief that only ‘families’ with a father figure would benefit;
- A change in the law in 2005 means all the children have the right to receive information about their biological fathers – which means they can get in touch with Mr Gaskell when they turn 18;
- The HFEA has confirmed the clinic should never have accepted Mr Gaskell as a donor because his views were contrary to the Equality Act, which states that donors and clinics cannot ‘discriminate against protected groups’.
Today, Mr Gaskell, from Manchester, is furious at what he describes as a ‘huge betrayal’. ‘I accept that some people will find this uncomfortable and that people might think I’m homophobic, or against the idea of single mothers,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.
‘But that couldn’t be further from the truth. This wasn’t about discriminating against same-sex couples, it wasn’t for religious reasons and I don’t accept that it’s bigotry. I think about these families – these children – every day, all the time.
‘But you can’t argue with biology. It takes a man and a woman to create a child, and it’s my view that if children are being born with my sperm they must have a mother and a father.
After they returned to the UK in 2010 they decided to try for more, and approached Care Fertility in Manchester (pictured)
‘I worried about how they’d be brought up, whether they’d be bullied in the playground, or about having two mums. I didn’t want that for my children. I accept that’s going to be divisive, but it’s how I feel.’
The bitter irony is Mr Gaskell and his former partner spent 14 years trying to conceive before they had their first child, following IVF treatment in Australia, in 2008.
After they returned to the UK in 2010 they decided to try for more, and approached Care Fertility in Manchester. When an initial round of IVF treatment failed, Mr Gaskell was approached by the clinic to become a donor.
In exchange, he and his ex-partner were offered a discount on their next IVF cycle by the fertility clinic – a common practice.
While it is illegal to pay egg or sperm donors more than their expenses, clinics are able to offer discounts on treatment. In Mr Gaskell’s case, it would reduce the cost of a round of IVF from £3,500 to £1,200.
Mr Gaskell says the clinic’s medical director in Manchester, Philip Lowe, told him he had ‘Superman-strength sperm’. ‘He explained their motility was unusually high compared with normal sperm, and that I should consider becoming a donor,’ Mr Gaskell said.
The couple were keen to help other people in a similar situation to themselves and decided to take up the clinic’s offer.
While it is illegal to pay egg or sperm donors more than their expenses, clinics are able to offer discounts on treatment (file image)
When filling out the HFEA consent form in the clinic in April 2010, Mr Gaskell said he was told he could place restrictions on his donation.
‘The lady from the clinic, who filled in the form on my behalf, said some people want to put “Not for same sex-couples”. So I asked her to write that down.
Because the form also said that the donation would go to a maximum of ten families, I assumed that meant it would go to couples, not single women.
‘I wanted to protect the sanctity of my own family, my own children. If the donor-conceived children had a father figure, I thought it would reduce the chances of them making contact with me later on.
‘They may have a fantastic upbringing and be cared for deeply. But if they had same-sex parents, or a single mother, other kids might ask, “Where’s your dad?” They’d be more curious about me.’
In fact, the Equality Act – which came into law in October that year – prohibits discriminating against specific protected groups, including same-sex couples.
Mr Gaskell’s sperm was only used after this point – which, according to the HFEA, means he should not have been accepted as a donor as his restrictions breached their own code of practice and the law in place at the time.
In September 2016, Mr Gaskell was told there were 12 children – and that an audit by the HFEA had revealed that some had been born to same-sex couples.
The details emerged over the next few months and he eventually discovered the total was, in fact, 13.
‘It was life-changing – impossible to process. The betrayal of my wishes really got me, and the sheer number of children,’ he said.
‘I’d gone 14 years believing I was never going to be a father only to eventually get three children of my own. Now I was being told I had 13 more.’
The strain destroyed his relationship and the couple separated.
The clinic said: ‘Errors are exceptionally rare and always reported to the regulator as well as informing anyone affected in an open, honest and transparent manner.’
A HFEA spokesman said a ‘full investigation’ had been carried out into Mr Gaskell’s case and ‘lessons have been learned’.