March 14, 2024

Inadvertent incest after IVF is real

Historic news flash in the chronicles of the Reproductive RevolutionA CNN investigation of the aftermath of “fertility fraud” – doctors impregnating their patients with their own sperm – features a woman who unwittingly slept with her half-brother. A Connecticut woman, 39-year-old Victoria Hill, investigated her ancestry with a DNA test kit. To her dismay, she discovered that her father was not her biological father and that her real father was her mother’s doctor, Burton Caldwell. 

Later on, in a conversation with friends, she learned that her high school boyfriend was also Dr Caldwell’s offspring. “I was traumatized by this,” Hill told CNN. “Now I’m looking at pictures of people thinking, well, if he could be my sibling, anybody could be my sibling.”

“This was the first time where we’ve had a confirmed case of someone actually dating, someone being intimate with someone who was their half-sibling,” Jody Madeira, a law professor at Indiana University who specialises in fertility fraud, told CNN. 

Ms Hill has written about her experience on the website of the US Donor Conceived Council. She says:

“The trauma around this revelation is profound. If my former boyfriend and I had attended the same college, we likely would have married and had children together only to later discover we were brother and sister. Even after we went our separate ways, we saw each other at friends’ weddings, and there was always a connection between us. Had one of us not been with someone else at those times, we might have reconnected.”

Both Ms Hill and CNN focus on the issue of fertility fraud. More than 30 doctors in the US have been accused of using their own sperm for their patients. Advocates for donor-conceived people say that there could be 80. They are calling for federal legislation to criminalise the practice. However, fertility fraud is largely a dead issue anyway. Some doctors did this in the 1970s and 80s. But with the advent of DNA test kits the dangers of being caught are too great and procedures in fertility clinics have changed. 

However, sperm banks supply their product to lesbian couples and single women and the same danger of incest between half-siblings exists. CNN reports that LGBTQ groups oppose regulation of the fertility industry because it “could have the unintended effect of making the formation of families less accessible to the LGBTQ community, which comprises an outsized share of the donor-recipient clientele.”

 “I think we should pause before creating additional criminal liability for people practicing reproductive medicine,” Katherine L. Kraschel, of Northeastern University, told CNN. “It gives me great pause … to say we want the government to try to step in and regulate what amounts to a reproductive choice.”