Conception beginning with deception.
As the IUI and IVF revolution has increased over the last few decades, so have the concerns surrounding it.
We have heard some of these stories: Things like serial sperm donors who have fathered over a hundred children, or embryo mix-ups (like at an IVF clinic in Los Angeles that led to two couples becoming pregnant with the other’s baby).
Indeed, technology has completely transformed the birthing process in the modern age.
But now we have an entirely different problem. A problem that resolves around sick and perverted doctors themselves.
One that largely began in the early days of widespread fertility treatment itself, and has potentially continued to this day, in which many of the victims involved are only just finding out now (decades later).
It is the emerging legal conundrum of ‘fertility fraud‘, in which a doctor assisting with the insemination process fathers a child without the knowledge of the woman, as requested sperm is swapped for their own instead.
Some real horror stories have emerged in recent years, particularly in overseas regions.
In 2019, there were reports of a Dutch doctor who had been accused of using his own material to father up to 200 children.
In December 2020, the New York Post published a story about a revered family doctor in Detroit, Michigan, who had done the same over four decades, all without the knowledge of many of his patients.
In Indiana, one in which a fertility doctor was eventually found to have at least 94 biological children.
Australia has also been involved in scandals like this.
Last year, sisters Maia and Tahnee Simmons shared their story about learning how Dr. Paul Jones, the man who helped their mother fall pregnant when their father had testicular cancer, might indeed be their father.
One of the sisters commented: “It definitely messes with your head, you question your genetic identity, who you are as a person, what you fought for, in my case, 38 years of who you are and where you came from, is totally changed in an instant.”
In another story, one Hunter Valley woman now estimates she has between 200 and 300 half-siblings across the world due to the fraudulent ‘antics’ of Dr Norman ‘Tony’ Walker.
Fertility treatment really became a booming industry in the 1970s, and for those that are now grown adults involved in those early years of the mainstream process, they are now discovering the hidden truth.
Secrecy surrounding reproductive cell donation has long been embedded in the culture of the fertility industry, often leading doctors to urge parents not to tell their children that they were donor-conceived.
Such secrecy was believed to be best for everyone by creating the illusion of biological connection. It was also influenced by shame concerning infertility and a desire to prevent interference with the parent-child relationship.
But now it is absolutely clear that this approach may not have been the best to take.
And the problem is, we are only just now considering legal safeguards against against the concept of fertility fraud — meaning more younger generations may also find out the same thing.
Let’s take a look now at the fight to catch up with decades of time.
LACK OF PROTECTIONS
As most of this is only being discovered now, it is far too late to prevent these births from already occurring, as they emerged in a time where nobody really considered safeguards for such a deceptive action by doctors.
It has also been reported that victims who file civil suits for medical malpractice and fraud often end up settling out of court and signing lengthy nondisclosure agreements. In some cases, the doctors that have done these deeds are long dead.
And, depending on the state and its definition of consent, doctors often cannot be prosecuted for rape or sexual assault because their patients technically “consented” to the insemination procedure.
To get around this, campaigners have pushed for new laws to be established to specifically address/counter this issue.
In the United States, where many of these stories have originated from, there is currently no specific law against fertility fraud at the federal level. And at the state level, it often remains unlegislated.
The absence of criminality against fertility fraud reflects the broader lack of regulation in reproductive medicine in the US.
In the United States, there are no legal limits on how many times a donor can donate sperm.
Thankfully, some governments on a state level are indeed taking this issue seriously, as well as other countries.
An increasing number of states have enacted fertility fraud legislation that criminalises or provides civil remedies for donor misrepresentation, such as when a fertility doctor uses his own sperm without telling the parents.
A new Colorado bill, in particular, would be the first in the U.S. to require the identity of egg and sperm donors to be released upon request of their donor-conceived offspring when they turn 18.
In the bill’s current version, it would also set a limit on the number of families per individual donor.
In Germany, a donor may not father over 15 children, and the United Kingdom caps it at 10 families.
In Australia, the state of Victoria introduced bans on donor anonymity in 2016.
In 2018, 61-year-old Raffaele Di Paolo was convicted for faking his degree and illegitimately performing fertility treatments on several people in the Melbourne area.
Sweden was ahead of the curb! Sounds familiar!
In Australia, where payment for sperm donation is prohibited beyond expense reimbursement, the number of sperm donors actually increased after anonymity was removed, meaning that a compromise in privacy does not impact the industry.
So there is some progress being made.
For some, however, it is far too little and far too late.
Fertility fraud involving doctor-donor fathers stands out: crucially, they involve a breach of trust in the doctor-patient relationship.
Some litigants have even likened these incidents to “medical rape” in court filings.
As birthing technologies continue to advance, including the possibility in Australia now for three-parent babies to be born using IVF, what scandals will emerge in a similar fashion in a few decade time?
Yet another consequence of society’s blind trust in medical butchers.
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