Fertility Doctors Using Their Own Sperm Is A Surprisingly Widespread Problem – IFLScience

For many, consumer DNA kits are a fun way to learn a little more about your background and, perhaps, builda family tree. For others, they can unearth deep-buried, often painful, family secrets see, for example, the dozens (maybe hundreds) of people born through artificial insemination who areonly now finding out that their biological father is not who they thought he was but the doctor who completed the procedure.

TakeKelli Rowlette. Rowlette had her DNA tested through the site Ancestry.comin 2017 and was shocked when the results revealed she was not related to her father. Instead, she found she was related to a man called Gerald Mortimer,who turned out to be the doctor who had delivered her as a baby. Rowlette submitted a lawsuit and it's subsequently come out that members of theObstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls were aware of Mortimer's behavior.

But as Jacqueline Mroz reports forThe New York Times, this Jerry Springer-esque type ofrevelation is not a fluke or a one-off. People across the US (and the world) are reaching the same conclusion, discovering a life-changing piece of informationthey would never have known if not for the growing popularity of consumer DNA kits.

In 2019, DNA analysis confirmed that Dutch fertility doc Jan Karbaat(who died aged 89 in 2017) fathered at least 49 children to women who saw him athis Rotterdam clinic. Buteven this large number may be an underestimate he has claimed there could be as many as 60. According to reports at the time, it is thought he falsified data and descriptions of donors.

It is not entirely clear how common this sort of behavior (aka fertility fraud) is.The cases that have come to light represent just a tinyfraction of the millions of children born from IVF and other advanced fertility treatments. However, as more and more people choose DNA testing,additional examples of this type of malpracticemay well come out of the woodwork.

"Unless it becomes routine to check babies DNA against their presumed biological parents DNA to make sure the genes match, we really wont know how often this happens,"Dr Julie Cantor, MD, JD, a lecturer in law atthe UCLA School of Law who specializes in health law and reproductive rights, told IFLScience.

"Hopefully, fertility fraud turns out to be just a few cases rogue doctors who, decades ago when they switched out the sperm, never imagined that home DNA testing would become a thing and that their secret would be found out. Not only is this behavior a grotesque breach of trust and a stark betrayal of physicians ethics, but nowadays, because of easy DNA testing, its just brazenly dumb."

Neither is it clearwhy fertility doctors are doing it in the first place. In some cases, it may be born of a lack of access to frozen sperm. In others, it might serve as a perverse power trip.Or, as Cantor puts it, "The answer may come down to two truisms from Lord Actons 'power corrupts' to 'follow the money'.

"The most charitable take would be something like the patient couldnt get pregnant and the available sperm was not leading to embryos or pregnancies, so he thought hed help," she added. "A more nefarious take is that the doctor wanted to create his own children by the dozens. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between."

Still, it seems to be a big enough problem that some stateshave felt the need tostep in and introduce new laws to deal withdodgy fertility practices such as these,albeit frequently at thebehest of the victims themselves.

In Indiana and California, state governments have passed bills calling the use ofunauthorized sperm a felony (the latter passed aftercouples at one fertility clinic found out their embryos were being implanted into others in 1995). Those affected have a right to sue those responsible. Meanwhile, in Texas, it has been declared a form of sexual assault. Anyone caught using unauthorized sperm (or unauthorized eggs andembryos) will be registered as a sex offender.

While the above examples go to show that, in some cases, proven incidents of fertility fraud have inspired legislation to address the crime directly, the process is slow and time-consuming. "You have to be patient and motivated," says Cantor. And so, often, victims have usedmore "garden variety" charges to get their stories heard and the perpetrators prosecuted.

"Unfortunately, the law has not quite caught up with the technology, and sometimes the available causes of action do not fit like a lock and key," explained Cantor.

"People have brought lawsuits alleging things like negligence, breach of contract, infliction of emotional distress, and tried to find a resolution through those garden-variety legal claims."

In 1992 years before the dawn of at-home testingThe New York Times reported on an incident in Virginia, where a fertility doctor calledCecil B. Jacobson wasput on trial for telling patients they were pregnant when they were not and, it later turned out, for using his own sperm to impregnate clients without their knowledge or consent. He was given five years in prison for 52 counts of fraud and perjury, the Washington Postreports. It is thought he could have fathered more than 70 children.

The whole affair was seen as so strange, it inspired the development of a '90s television movie called The Babymaker: The Dr. Cecil Jacobson Story, featuringGeorge Dzundza as Jacobson.

Now, similar cases are popping up in other states, includingVermont andConnecticut. The difference being they areemerging becausechildren of artificial insemination (likeRowlette) are using consumer DNA kits.

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Fertility Doctors Using Their Own Sperm Is A Surprisingly Widespread Problem - IFLScience

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