April 20, 2024

When your fertility doctor gets a bit too involved

Some have been using their own sperm to get clients pregnant

In the era of artificial reproduction, an unexpected hazard has been discovered: doctors who use their own sperm. Dr Jody Madeira, of Indiana University, has studied more than 20 cases in the United States and in other countries. Wayward doctors have turned up in a dozen states, including Connecticut, Vermont, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, as well as in England, South Africa, Germany and the Netherlands.

 Dov Fox, a bioethicist at the University of San Diego and the author of “Birth Rights and Wrongs,” summed up the bizarre trend in a single word: “gross”.  “In a couple more: shocking, shameful. The number of doctors sounds less like a few bad apples and more like a generalized practice of deception, largely hidden until recently by a mix of low-tech and high stigma.”

The doctors have normally been discovered years later, when the children of artificial insemination or of IVF use a genetic testing service and discover that their biological father is neither the man who raised them nor the sperm donor. The NYTimes spoke to one woman who knew that she was a sperm donor baby. She tracked the donor down and bonded with him – he even officiated at her wedding. But eventually she discovered that her mother’s doctor was the real donor.

Why did doctors do this?

Dr Madeira said some of them “could have self-justified their malfeasance in an era of ‘doctor knows best. In their minds, they may just have been helping their patients by increasing their chances of getting pregnant with fresh sperm for higher fertilization rates.”

But others may have had darker motivations. “I would bet a lot of these doctors had power reasons for doing this — mental health issues, narcissistic issues — or maybe they were attracted to certain women,” she said.

One problem in dealing with the issue is that “fertility fraud” is not per se a crime in most states. California passed a law in 2011 about misuse of reproductive material in general. In May this year Indiana passed a law which singles out doctors who use their own sperm. In June Texas passed a similar law which classifies the offence as criminal assault and forces the offender to register as a sex offender.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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