A dad has sued a fertility clinic over nine children who were mistakenly conceived when his sperm was given to gay couples and single mums against his will.
Neil Gaskell took legal action after blunders allowed his “superman-strength” sperm to be given again and again to same-sex couples and single women – against his direct wishes.
He was stunned to discover there had been nine such births, plus another four to heterosexual couples – meaning he had 13 children he never knew about it.
Mr Gaskell, 49, who has three kids of his own through IVF treatment, launched a marathon legal fight and eventually settled on a five-figure sum.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Mirror he told how he held the traditional view that children should be brought up by a mother and father – accepting this is a “divisive” view.
Mr Gaskell is now facing a storm of criticism from same-sex parents and single mums, with lesbian mother Kerry Pask saying his decision to sue was “discriminatory”.
But he insisted: “It’s not about discrimination, it’s not about bigotry.
“I accept some people will find it uncomfortable but I wanted any children born from my sperm to have a mother and a father.
“I accept what I said will be divisive, but these children are what matters the most. A lot of people will strongly agree with me, a lot will strongly disagree, but my concern is for the kids.
“I didn’t want them being questioned. I didn’t want people making comments like ‘Where’s your dad?’ or ‘Why do you have two mums?’
“It takes a man and a woman to create a child. You can’t argue with millions of years of biology.”
Mr Gaskell was left furious after finding out about all the children he had fathered without his consent.
He began donating to the clinic in 2010 after being told he had “superman strength sperm”.
Before doing so he filled in a consent form in which he specified his sperm was “not for same sex couples” and his donation entitled them to money off a round of their own IVF.
Six years later he was contacted out of the blue by the CARE Fertility Clinic – the country’s largest private provider of IVF treatment – who told him “mistakes may have been made”.
He got depressed after learning the clinic had acted against his wishes and decided to sue. It led to the end of his relationship with his partner.
Mr Gaskell won a settlement against CARE Fertility Clinic following a four-year legal battle which is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.
The full-time dad said he has “no problem” with people in same-sex relationships, such as Elton John or Olympic diver Tom Daley, having children of their own.
He said: “I have absolutely no issue with it, be it by adoption, IVF or a surrogate. It’s just in my case I wanted them to have a father figure in their life, in my eyes that would reduce the chances of them coming looking for me when they’re older.”
Mr Gaskell and his former partner, of Manchester, had spent 14 years trying for a baby with 12 failed IVF attempts.
In 2008 they moved to Melbourne and sometime later were thrilled to welcome their first child after successful IVF treatment.
Mr Gaskell said: “The IVF had a serious impact on us, the two-week wait to see if it had worked was always terrible, then when it didn’t it was devastating.
“We moved to Australia to start a new life with a different frame of mind. We bought a pregnancy test at three weeks and when we saw the blue lines it was overwhelming.
“United winning the treble in 1999 came close, but the baby being born was the best moment of my life.”
By the time the child was born the couple had returned to the UK. In April 2010 they visited CARE to try for a second child.
Mr Gaskell said: “Research shows that once a body has carried a baby it can be easier to conceive again, so we got in there quick.”
It was while undergoing the treatment he was asked if he would be willing to become a donor – in exchange for a £2,300 discount, cutting the cost from £3,500 to £1,200.
He said: “They approached me and said I had ‘superman strength sperm’ and raised the idea of donation, it was flattering.
“There was the knowledge that I could be helping other people in a similar position to us. Then there was also the financial incentive.”
But one Friday in September 2016, Mr Gaskell’s life was turned upside down when he got a call from CARE.
He said: “It was around 7.30pm, I was at home with the kids playing. I remember she immediately asked, ‘Do you remember the exclusions you asked for?’ and I thought something was amiss.
“I remembered going through the consent form with them, they asked the questions and filled it in and I specified no same-sex couples.
“Then they said something along the lines of ‘Mistakes have been made’ and they invited me in for a meeting.”
When Mr Gaskell was first contacted by CARE he said staff initially told him there were 12 children conceived from his sperm.
The following month he received an email giving him a breakdown of boys and girls and where they had been born. It was only when he put in a request through the regulator that he found there were 13.
He said: “I was numb, everything after that was a bit of a blur. I spent 14 years never expecting to be a father, now I’ve got 16 kids.
“I had to go home and tell my partner.
“It was difficult to process for both of us, the number of children was overwhelming.”
Mr Gaskell told how the news left him depressed and he decided to take legal action against the clinic.
He also said the strain of everything wrecked his relationship with his partner.‘
The Equality Act, dating from October 2010, prohibits discriminating against specific protected groups, including same-sex couples.
When Mr Gaskell gave his sperm in April 2010 it would still have been against the HFEA code of practice to discriminate against same-sex couples.
HFEA confirmed the clinic should not have accepted him as a donor as his views were contrary to the Act, which states that donors and clinics cannot “discriminate against protected groups”.
The law covering IVF and fertility treatment changed in 2005, giving children conceived from sperm donors the right to receive information which identifies their biological fathers – allowing them to get in touch once they turn 18.
Mr Gaskell added: “Are they counting the years down until they can find out who I am? Not a day has gone by since when I haven’t thought about them.
“But I am looking forward to meeting them, but I’ve no idea how many, if any, will get in touch. Will it be 13 or none?
“I’ve also got to think about my own children. One day I’ve got to tell them I was a sperm donor. There have been a lot of tearful conversations about different possible scenarios.
“I would like to turn the clock back and wish this had never happened, but now the most important thing is how these children feel.
“If they’ve had a great upbringing it would be music to my ears. But if they’ve had a tough time it would be heartbreaking.”
A spokesman for CARE said: “CARE Fertility believes ‘Family is for Everyone’. Our teams dedicate their lives to helping people have a baby.
“Whether you are a heterosexual or same-sex couple we know that love makes a family, and we are committed to helping all our patients achieve the joy of parenthood with compassion and personal treatment.
“Our work is regulated by the Health Fertility and Embryology Authority. Errors are exceptionally rare and always reported to the regulator.”
A spokesperson for the HFEA said: “Choosing to donate to someone is an amazing, selfless act that gives some people their only chance of fulfilling their dream to have a family.
“However, it’s also a decision that has lifelong implications and therefore all licensed fertility clinics must provide donors with relevant information to ensure they make fully informed decisions.
“Our Code of Practice, which is our rule book for clinics, clearly states that while anyone who donates eggs or sperm can place extra conditions on their donation, these restrictions cannot discriminate against particular patient groups or be incompatible with the Equality Act 2010.
“We are aware of the situation involving a clinic and former donor and a full investigation was carried out.
“Lessons have been learned and the clinic now ensures that all treatments are conducted in line with our Code of Practice and the Equality Act 2010, to ensure that no one receiving treatment is discriminated against because of a protected characteristic, including sexual orientation.”
Mr Gaskell’s case mirrors one in the US where a doctor is suing his medical school after discovering sperm he donated 30 years ago was used to father at least 17 children.
Dr Bryce Cleary filed a £4.23million lawsuit against Oregon Health & Science University, claiming it broke a deal that his sperm would be used to produce no more than five babies.