A leading Boston-based fertility doctor secretly impregnated a patient with his own sperm despite telling her that it had come from an anonymous donor, new a lawsuit has claimed.
According to a civil claim filed in US district court in Boston on Wednesday, Dr Merle Berger, founder of Boston IVF and a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard medical school for over three decades, secretly impregnated a patient, Sarah Depoian, who had been seeking intrauterine insemination.
According to the claim, Berger told Depoian the sperm would come from an anonymous sperm donor “who resembled her husband, who did not know her, and whom she did not know”.
“This is an extreme violation. I am still struggling to process it. I trusted Dr Berger fully. We thought he would act responsibly and ethically,” Depoian said in a statement released by her attorneys.
Depoian’s daughter, Carolyn Bester, who was born in 1981, only discovered that Berger was her biological father when she took at-home DNA tests from Ancestry.com and 23andMe this year.
Through the tests, Bester, now 42, found out that she was related to two people who turned out to be Berger’s granddaughter and second cousin and pieced together that she was Berger’s daughter after speaking with her new relatives.
“To say I experienced shock when I figured this out would be an extreme understatement,” she said. At a press conference, Bester said it had been “really shocking and horrible” to discover Berger was her father, as her mother alleges in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, Depoian and her husband began seeking treatment with the doctor in 1980. Berger, the complaint claims, had advised the couple that he could perform an insemination using the sperm of an anonymous medical resident.
Depoian claims she would not have consented to the fertility treatment if Berger had told her that he was going to insert his own sperm into her body.
“Dr Berger’s misconduct was not a mistake,” the complaint says.
Depoian’s attorney Adam Wolf said the doctor had secretly inserted his own sperm into his patient “without her consent and against her wishes”.
“Some people call this horrific act ‘medical rape’. But regardless of what you choose to call it, Berger’s heinous and intentional misconduct is unethical, unacceptable, and illegal,” Wolf added.
Wolf said that Berger, who is no longer practicing, did not deny the allegations. But in a statement to NBC10 Boston, Berger’s attorneys said the allegations had “changed repeatedly” in the six months since he was first contacted and “had no legal or factual merit and would be disproven in court”.
The claim is not unique, and comes as institutions associated with women’s health are facing a variety of civil claims. They include hundreds against former Columbia University gynecologist Dr Robert Hadden who was convicted in federal court earlier this year of inducing four patients to cross state lines for examinations during which he sexually assaulted them.
But claims of IVF fertility misconduct are comparatively novel.
Peiffer Wolf, the law firm that is handling the Depoian claim, filed a similar lawsuit in 2021 on behalf of Bianca Voss against Dr Martin D Greenberg, a New York fertility specialist, who Voss claimed had also used his own sperm instead of that of an anonymous donor.
In that case, the attorney Joseph Peiffer called the switch, without the patient’s consent and against her wishes, and act of “medical rape” alongside being “unethical, unacceptable, and illegal”. Peiffer said the case was one among thousands in the US “where an epidemic of fertility fraud is now underway”.
Referring to the allegations against Berger filed on Wednesday, Sarah Depoian said she felt like the “victim of assault” and is concerned that Berger “may have violated other unsuspecting patients”.
Full Story: The Guardian December 13 2023