With its tales of close relatives reuniting after years of separation, ITV’s Long Lost Family has been reliably jerking tears since 2011. Now, from the same production company, comes Born from the Same Stranger: another thumping slice of highly effective old-school human-interest storytelling, this time served with a side order of ethical dilemmas.
In the 1990s when, as the programme put it, ‘sperm donation was in its heyday’, donors did their thing in return for 50 quid and a promise of anonymity. On solid practical grounds, this seemed like a good idea at the time – and perhaps still does. But it reckoned without the deep human need to know where we’re genetically from – especially now that we appear to have decided this makes us who we are. ‘When you only know half your family tree,’ said one donor-born participant, ‘it makes you feel like you’re half a person.’
The first of the programme’s two main stories featured Liam, an only child who’d grown up making Father’s Day cards in the belief that he’d be able to give them to his dad one day. Having learned from his mum that she’d used the London Sperm Bank, Liam headed there to meet the chief executive, who could pass on only ‘non-identifying details’ about the sperm donor. Even so, the news that his biological father had, like him, been 6ft tall with blue eyes and self-proclaimed ‘varying moods’ caused Liam to weep at length.
But then he uploaded his DNA to a voluntary data website – and within minutes discovered that he had two half-brothers and two half-sisters. A few days after that, they agreed to meet in a London pub, which seemed quite high-risk to me, but which produced what Liam quite accurately called ‘a sense of instant warmth’.