A Cumberland County woman is accusing a retired Boston fertility treatment doctor of impregnating her with his own sperm without her consent over 40 years ago.
In the civil lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court in Boston on Wednesday, Sarah Depoian accuses Dr. Merle Berger of using his own sperm to artificially inseminate her in 1980, which led to the birth of her daughter in 1981. He then spent years concealing that act, the lawsuit states, by preventing her from finding out the identity of her sperm donor. But in 2023, Depoian’s daughter, Carolyn Bester, discovered a connection to Berger after taking an at-home DNA test that found she shared DNA with numerous people related to Berger.
Berger has been regarded as a pioneer in the infertility treatment field. A former Harvard Medical School professor, he was a founder of Boston IVF in 1986, one of the nation’s first and now largest fertility clinics. In 2020, he published a memoir on the history of IVF, the “ethical conundrums” to come in the future of artificial insemination and his own history as a doctor and “a fierce woman’s health care advocate.”
Berger is one of numerous doctors who recently have been accused of “medical rape” by secretly impregnating patients with their own sperm. Donald Cline, a retired fertility doctor in Indianapolis, inseminated dozens of patients with his own sperm in the 1970s and 1980s. He fathered over 90 children and counting – many of whom spoke out in a 2022 Netflix documentary. Many of these cases have been uncovered thanks to at-home DNA tests, which often connect people with other relatives who have used the same tests.
“He did so without her consent, and against her wishes. Some people call this horrific act ‘medical rape.’ But regardless of what you call it, Dr. Berger’s heinous and intentional misconduct is unethical, unacceptable and unlawful,” said Adam Wolf [of Peiffer Wolf], an attorney representing Depoian. “No doctor should do to his patient what was done to Sarah.”
Berger was supposed to artificially inseminate Depoian with an anonymous donor who looked like her husband, who couldn’t use his own sperm, the lawsuit states. In 2022, Depoian’s daughter took at-home DNA test kits from 23andMe and Ancestry.com to learn about her history, and in early 2023 she discovered that she was related to Berger’s granddaughter and second cousin.
“I spoke to one of (Berger’s relatives) and I started piecing it all together. To say I was shocked when I figured this out would be an extreme understatement. It feels like reality has shifted,” said Bester, 42. ” My mom put her trust in Dr. Berger as a medical professional during one of the most vulnerable times in her life. He had all the power and she had none. It is deeply disturbing that he did not act with the integrity and ethics we would expect from a doctor in that situation.”
Depoian, 73, also is accusing Berger of repeatedly and knowingly concealing that he had used his own sperm. In 1983, Depoian asked Berger for assistance with conceiving another child with the same donor, but Berger said he did not know the original donor’s identity.
Depoian has since struggled with anxiety, stress, nightmares and “a newfound mistrust of the medical profession,” the lawsuit states.
“It’s hard to imagine not trusting your own doctor. We never dreamt he would abuse his position of trust and perpetuate this extreme violation. I am struggling to process it,” Depoian said. “I trusted Dr. Berger fully. We thought he would act responsibly and ethically. I will never fully recover from his violation of me.”
SECOND SUIT POSSIBLE
At a news conference, Wolf said that Bester has viable claims to sue Berger and there “very well might be” a second lawsuit.
“My shock has quickly turned to anger and that anger bound us together and pushed us forward as a family to seek accountability,” Bester said. “I am so proud of my mom for speaking out and I am honored to stand by her, but most of all we will be heard. And today we are demanding accountability for our family.”
Depoian is suing Berger for fraudulent concealment, intentional misrepresentation and violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection law. She is demanding a trial by jury and seeking compensation for three times the amount of damages determined by the court, compensation for attorney’s fees, costs and interest, and additional compensation that is “just and proper.”
Harvard Medical School did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.
Full Story: Portland Press Herald December 13 2023