When Carolyn Bester bought a home ancestry kit late last year, she was excited to learn about her family history.
“I knew plenty of people who tried DNA tests and I actually thought I was going to have a lot of fun doing the research,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
Instead, the results led Bester, 42, to believe her biological father is a fertility doctor who performed the procedure that led to her birth, according to a lawsuit filed by her mother on Wednesday in Massachusetts District Court.
Bester’s mother, Sarah Depoian, claims Dr. Merle Berger inseminated her with his own sperm after she sought fertility treatment at his Boston area clinic more than 40 years ago, according to a complaint.
“We never dreamt we would have he would have used his position of trust and perpetrate this extreme violation,” Depoian told reporters at a press conference.
What does the lawsuit allege?
Depoian, who moved to Maine from Massachusetts three years ago, first visited Berger in 1979 to seek fertility treatment because she and her husband could not conceive using his sperm. She decided to undergo an intrauterine insemination, or IUI, a procedure in which sperm is inserted directly into the uterus, according to the complaint.
Berger told her he would use the sperm of an anonymous medical resident who resembled her husband for the procedure. Depoian and her husband paid a “significant amount of money” for the treatment, the lawsuit says.
“Dr. Berger masturbated in his own medical office, walked over to his patient while he was carrying his own sperm, and then deliberately inserted that sperm into his patient’s body, all the while knowing that she did not consent,” Adam Wolf [of Peiffer Wolf], an attorney for Depoian, told reporters.
Ancestry test prompted suspicion
The ancestry test taken by Bester late last year did not reveal a direct match for her biological father, but showed she is related to Berger’s granddaughter and second cousin.
“Somebody who was related to him reached out to me and asked me how we were related, and I said, interesting, I don’t know,” Bester said.
Bester, a New Jersey-based lawyer with one 5-year-old child of her own, already knew that her mother received fertility treatment from Berger. When the relative confirmed they were related to Berger, she started to piece together what she believes happened.
“To say I was shocked when I figured this out would be an extreme understatement,” she said. “It feels like reality has shifted.”
Bester said she had already learned the father who raised her was not biologically related to her. Although she had already adjusted to that realization, it could not prepare her for the revelations from the DNA test, she said.
“Some people call this horrific act medical rape,” Wolf said. “But regardless of what you call it, Dr. Berger’s heinous and intentional misconduct is unethical, unacceptable and unlawful.”
The lawsuit alleges Berger committed fraudulent concealment, intentional misrepresentation – fraud, and violation of Massachusetts’ consumer protection law. The complaint requests a jury trial.
Asked why Bester was not listed as a plaintiff in the complaint, Wolf opened up the possibility of another future lawsuit against Berger.
“We believe that Carolyn also does have viable claims, but they’re very different claims and very different injuries. So, we have brought Sarah’s claim first and separately,” he said.
Berger served an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School as an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology from the 1970s until 2021. He is also the author of Conception: A Fertility Doctor’s Memoir, published in 2020.
Full Story: USA Today December 14 2023