Preview: The World’s Biggest Family explores the impact of sperm donation

I have two younger sisters, and they were/are enough of a handful. I can’t even imagine having over 600 siblings. And yet, that’s exactly what award-winning director Barry Stevens found out, and is documented in an upcoming CBC Docs POV episode.

“The World’s Biggest Family,” bowing Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC, follows the documentary filmmaker and screenwriter as he tracks down several of his half-siblings. But as much as it is learning more about those who are related to him, Stevens’ project is a critical look at the practice of anonymous sperm donation, including doctors who have used their own sperm and lied about it, anonymous donors with mental or physical genetic illnesses that are passed on unknowingly to several of their kids, and donors who discover they may have hundreds of kids, despite being told by sperm banks that there were strict limits.

“The World’s Biggest Family” kicks off in 1884 Philadelphia to explain how sperm donors were first conceived, before switching tacts to his own tale. Stevens’ parents wanted children, but his father was unable. Enter an anonymous sperm donor who was used to conceive Stevens and his sister. A secret kept for decades, they didn’t learn the truth until their father died. The advent of DNA testing popularized by Ancestry.com and 23andMe led Stevens on a journey of discovery, not only to uncover more siblings but who his biological father was.

Through interviews with his half-siblings, Stevens delves into the feelings of people who always felt like something was missing in their lives, felt like they didn’t fit in, and struggled with emotions like anger, sadness or happiness upon learning the truth.

But the project doesn’t just deal with Stevens’ family. He meets Rebecca, who learned she is just one of possibly more than 19 children who was fathered by the same Ottawa fertility doctor; and Angie, who discovered the sperm she and her partner had received was donated by a man who failed to disclose his mental and physical health issues.

“The sort of idea that it can be done with a few shakes of this wrist and nothing else, there should be a bit more to it than that, I believe,” Stevens’ sibling, Graham, says during the documentary.

I agree.

“The World’s Biggest Family” airs as part of CBC Docs POV, Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Image courtesy of Bizable Media.

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