The number of disturbing “fertility fraud” cases that claim dozens of women unknowingly gave birth to children fathered by more than 50 doctors across the United States continued to rise this year as medical professionals in Washington and Vermont faced new accusations they illegally used their own sperm to artificially inseminate patients.
- A woman named Sarah Depoian filed a federal lawsuit in the district of Massachusetts on Wednesday alleging Dr. Merle Berger, a former professor at Harvard Medical School, used his own sperm to impregnate her in 1980 after promising her the sperm would come from an anonymous donor she did not know; an attorney for Berger has denied the claims.
- A former doctor at the University of Washington, Dr. Christopher Herndon, voluntarily surrendered his medical license last month after one of his former patients accused him of secretly fathering one of her children, a report from the Washington Medical Commission revealed last week.
- An Idaho woman said in a lawsuit filed in October that she visited Dr. David Claypool in Spokane, Washington for help getting pregnant in 1989 and was assured a sperm donor would be chosen based on traits she selected, but 33 years later, her daughter learned of her biological father’s identity through a 23andMe DNA test; his lawyer declined to comment to the Associated Press.
- In Vermont, a woman has sued Dr. John Boyd Coates III for the second time, accusing him of trying to avoid paying the $2.2 million judgment she won against him for damages wrought from the conception of her daughter more than 40 years ago—Cheryl Rousseau learned Coates was the father of her child decades after she was born though the use of two DNA testing services.
- A second person settled a similar 2021 case with Coates for $100,000, according to the VTDigger.
- Dr. Morris Wortman, a prominent New York fertility doctor, died this May while a lawsuit was pending against him that claimed he used his sperm to impregnate several women in the 1980s—the daughter of one of his former patients found she had at least nine half-siblings using an ancestry DNA test.
Depoian’s lawsuit claims her daughter, born in 1981, earlier this year conducted at-home DNA tests from Ancestry.com and 23andMe and found Berger was her biological father through matches with his granddaughter and second cousin, the lawsuit says. Depoian contacted Berger through a lawyer after receiving the DNA results and the doctor “did not deny that he inserted his own sperm into Ms. Depoian’s body, contrary to her wishes and his promises,” the lawsuit reads. […]
“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,” Adam Wolf, Depoian’s attorney, told reporters Wednesday.
At least 50 doctors in the United States have been accused of fraud in connection with donating sperm in the last several years, the New York Times reported in 2022, not including those accused this year in Vermont and Washington. Today, “the safety measures and safeguards currently in place would make (allegation of fertility fraud) virtually impossible,” a spokesperson for the Berger-founded Boston IVF Fertility Clinic told the Associated Press, but dozens of fraud claims from people born in the 80s and earlier suggest that wasn’t always the case. Modern DNA tests have broken open dozens of fertility fraud cases in the last two decades. One such case dates back to the early 1990s, in which Virginia Dr. Cecil Jacobson admitted to fathering as many as 75 children through artificial insemination between 1976 and 1988. He said he used his own sperm in cases where only frozen sperm from a sperm bank was available. Earlier this year, a jury awarded $8.75 million to families who alleged Dr. Paul Brennan Jones of Grand Junction, Colorado, was the sperm donor for at least 17 people born between 1976 and 1997. Indiana doctor Donald Cline, now 85 years old, was proven to have fathered dozens of children through illegal artificial insemination before his arrest in 2016. Cline’s fraud exposed holes in the legal system that largely fail to protect the rights of infertility patients and their children in such cases, and Indiana became the first state to designate fertility fraud as a felony in 2019. Cline’s story was highlighted in a 2022 Netflix documentary called “Our Father,” which documented the dozens of “secret children” he illegally fathered.
94. That’s how many children Cline illegally fathered through artificial insemination before his arrest.
Victims and lawyers have together stood up over the last decade to fight for better legal protections in cases of fertility fraud. Since the Cline case, at least eight states have joined Indiana to enact legislation regarding fertility fraud and a handful of others have proposed new laws, though no specific federal legislation currently exists. Nevada, which outlawed fertility fraud earlier this year, did so only after a doctor failed to be held accountable for claims he fathered at least two dozen children using his own sperm to artificially inseminate his patients without their consent. A woman born after her mother received fertility care from Dr. Quincy Fortier, an esteemed fertility specialist in the 1990s, was found through a DNA test to have at least 24 half-siblings. When taken to court, his lawyers pointed out there was no actual crime committed. Some states, like Texas, have passed laws classifying fertility fraud as a form of sexual assault. U.S. Representatives Lisa McClain (R-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) introduced the Fighting Fertility Fraud Act of 2023 in May, which would make the crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The law was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary but has not moved forward.
Full Story: Forbes December 15 2023