May 19, 2024

An even darker side to fertility fraud in the 60s and 70s

Dispatches from the Reproductive Revolution. Fertility fraud is becoming a ho-hum story, but just for the record, a woman in Louisville, Kentucky, discovered recently that her mother’s gynaecologist, Dr Marvin Yussman. used his own sperm when she requested artificial insemination back in 1975. Using online genealogy sites, Erin Crowder has discovered that she has at least seven half-siblings. Her mother, Susan Crowder, 73, called Yussman’s conduct “unconscionable and depraved”.

Dr Yussman, now retired, has admitted to using his own sperm to inseminate patients “about a half a dozen times.”

Dr Jody Madeira, an expert in fertility fraud at Indiana University, says that this is highly unethical. “He inserts himself into your family tree, he inserts his semen into your body — so it’s not just a physical violation, it’s a genetic violation.”

The Yussman case is a typical instance of fertility fraud. But an exposé in The Guardian suggests that some doctors had even more perverse and callous practices. Some doctors not only deceived women, but also men. Journalist Jenny Kleeman uncovered several instances in which men gave sperm samples for fertility testing which unscrupulous doctors in the 60s and 70s secretly used for some of their patients. In other words, their sperm was stolen.

“Clinics would say or do anything to get the business,” observes one man who has become an amateur sperm donor detective. “They thought whatever they said was probably never going to get back to them.”

The stories of their offspring are heart-rending. A search for a sperm donor father online shows that an elderly man is almost certainly the father. When he is finally contacted, he denies – truthfully — that he ever donated sperm.

One woman commented: “I actually don’t really consider myself as donor conceived any more. My husband calls it ‘donor conthieved’. It just feels as if I’m in a different category. And there must be a lot of other people in this category.”

As a footnote, Kleeman interviewed Michael Beeney, a medical student who donated regularly at the Harley Street clinic of Dr Reynold H. Boyd.

“Beeney is likely to have fathered hundreds of children, but has never put his DNA on any database so they can find him. ‘It could cause all sorts of emotional issues,’ he says. ‘At the time, I don’t think any of us gave it a thought. The prime purpose was getting money.’”

Hundreds of children? Dr Beeney, now retired, has written a steamy novel, Children of Eden, which draws upon his experience as donor and doctor. “Those involved in the unregulated infertility business of the 70s—donors, patients and offspring alike—may need to re-evaluate the consequences of the part they played after reading this story,” says the publication blurb.