This month, Kentucky legislators will consider a bill seeking to criminalize fertility fraud, making it a class D felony for physicians to impregnate patients with their own sperm. Should the bill pass, Kentucky will be one of only a handful of states with such laws on the books.
The issue was brought to the national spotlight when Susan Crowder learned, fully 45 years after her daughter was born, that Dr. Marvin Yussman, her fertility doctor at the time, had inseminated her with his own sperm rather than with the sperm of an anonymous donor as he had promised.
While bizarre situations like this may seem like a fringe issue, they are a whole lot more common than many might be inclined to believe. In a 1987 survey, 2% of fertility doctors freely admitted to using their own sperm on their patients. The trend only seems to have increased over the years; similar cases are cropping up all around the globe, raising serious questions with lasting ethical implications.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of fertility doctors who’ve been caught in fertility fraud:
- Cecil Byran Jacobson, a known con artist, is suspected of fathering as many as 75 children with his own sperm. Several of his victims expressed horror at the discovery, having been promised that their husband’s sperm would be used for insemination.
- British scientist Bertold Weisner founded a fertility clinic that promised to provide middle and upper class clients with sperm donors of “intelligent stock” before secretly using his own sperm to inseminate hundreds of women. He is estimated to have fathered as many as 600 children.
- Dr. Donald Cline is an Indianapolis fertility specialist who also tricked his clients into believing he was using either their husband’s sperm or the sperm of an anonymous donor. To date, he has at least 50 children confirmed by DNA.
- Norman Barwin had a similar pathology and disturbing track record. He was a renowned, award-winning Canadian fertility specialist who ultimately lost his license- and a $13.3 million settlement for a class action lawsuit involving 226 people. No one knows exactly how many children he’s fathered, but estimates are in excess of 100.
- Jan Karbaat was a Dutch fertility specialist who went to dramatic lengths to assure his clients that he would find sperm donors with physical attributes similar to the intended father. He collected photos of relatives and took detailed notes, feigning deep concern about finding a perfect, hand-selected donor. In reality, he had no intention of finding the perfect donor; he just used his own sperm. He is thought to have fathered up to 200 children before he died.
- Gerald Mortimer is an Idaho Falls doctor who confessed to masturbating in his office and giving the nurse his own sperm samples with which to inseminate a number of his patients.
- Like many of the other fertility specialists guilty of fertility fraud, Dr. Gary Vandenberg’s cover was blown through the use of home DNA tests that weren’t even in existence when he impregnated women with his own sperm. It’s a decision that has had a profoundly harmful effect on at least one of the children born from this arrangement, who reports, “When I first found out – I was very suicidal. I did not want this existence. I still have those days. My husband had to take off work and stay home quite a bit to make sure I didn’t do anything to myself.” Dr. Vandenberg still has an active medical license.
- Dr. Paul Brennan Jones is a Colorado doctor who also promised to use anonymous donations from men who resembled womens’ husbands. Instead he used his own. When one of the children he produced was born with cystic fibrosis, the child’s mother demanded a medical history from Dr. Jones, who, to date, has still refused to provide one.
- Dr. Kim McMorries was also outed as a fertility fraudster after one of his biological children turned to DNA testing for answers about her health history. His deceptive actions inspired the Texas legislature to enact a law making it a felony sexual assault for any Texas doctor to secretly impregnate patients using his own sperm.
- Mark Hansen was 55 years old when he learned that the father he had always known was not genetically linked to him at that, in fact, Dr. Sidney Yugend, his mother’s fertility doctor, was his biological dad.
- Morris Wortman is a physician from Rochester, NY, who stands accused by multiple people of secretly inseminating women with his own sperm. Another mystery solved through DNA testing.
- Dr. Philip Peven secretly fathered hundreds of children over his 40 year career as a fertility specialist.
- Quincy Fortier practiced fertility medicine in Las Vegas, where, for a period of over 30 years, he routinely inseminated women with his own sperm without their consent. He is the subject of the recently released documentary, “Baby God,” which gives viewers a chilling inside look at the psychological profile of the kinds of men who make these decisions.
The list goes on and on. Dr.Jan Wildschut. Dr. Martin Greenberg. Dr. Gary Phillip Wood. Dr. James Blute. Dr. Michael Kiken. Dr. Phillip Milgram. Dr. Gary Don Davis. Dr. Stephen Hornstein. Dr. Norman Tony Walker. Dr. Jos Beek.
The obvious question here is “why?” Why would so many accomplished men go to such dramatic lengths to be so deceptive? Is it narcissism? Supply shortage? Deviant sexual fetishes? A need to feel powerful? The knowledge that they could get away with it without legal repercussions? All of the above?
And how should we view this? Some states, like Texas, are classifying this as sexual assault. Is this an appropriate categorization? Where does the sexual experience start and end? A doctor walks into his office to masturbate (often pornography is involved) and returns to an unsuspecting woman to inseminate her with his semen. It’s obviously unethical, so why isn’t it illegal? It’s a question that applies to a great deal of assisted reproductive technology. When does something inherently unethical cross the line into territory requiring legislative efforts?
And what are the implications for the children produced en masse in these situations? What kind of identity issues are in play for people who live 50 years of their lives before discovering they have hundreds of siblings or that they’re related to men who could potentially be categorized as rapists? There are a great many support groups for donor-conceived individuals, and they don’t have a ton of great things to say about the arrangements that led to their conception.
Matt Smith is one of the many donor-conceived individuals fathered by Dr. Donald Cline. When expressing his views on the matter, he said, “To know someone would take advantage of that situation, it just makes me really angry. It’s hard to believe that someone would take advantage of the most intimate experience of a woman’s life.”
Amen, Mr. Smith. Amen. That’s exactly how we feel about so much of the exploitive #BigFertility industry. It’s why we must continue to sound the alarm on issues like these that so often fly beneath the radar of the collective conscience.