Kelli Rowlette initially thought that the DNA test she submitted to the genealogy website Ancestry.com was inaccurate because it predicted a parent-child match with a stranger. She later realised he was also named as the presiding doctor on her birth certificate. Rowlette, and her mother Sally Ashby and legal father Howard Fowler are now suing retired obstetrician gynaecologist Gerald Mortimer for fraud, medical negligence, battery, emotional distress and breach of contract.
Rowlette and her family decided to go public with their story to hold 'the responsible parties accountable for a grievous and damaging violation of trust'.
Ashby and Fowler originally consulted Dr Mortimer when they were living in Idaho in the early 1980s. The couple were struggling to conceive, due to Fowler's low sperm count and Ashby's tipped uterus. Dr Mortimer recommended a medical procedure in which Ashby would be artificially inseminated with a mixture of sperm from her husband and an anonymous donor.
The couple specified that the donor be a current university student who looked like Fowler, with brown hair, blue eyes and taller than 6ft. 'Dr Mortimer fraudulently and knowingly concealed his use of his own genetic material in the procedure,' the lawsuit states, inseminating Ashby with his own semen over a three-month period. The parents say they would not have consented to the procedure if they had known Dr Mortimer was going to use his own sperm.
When Ashby informed Dr Mortimer the family were moving to the state of Washington, 'Dr Mortimer cried… [he] knew Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this to Ashby or Fowler,' the lawsuit alleges.
Rowlette was previously unaware that her now-divorced parents had trouble conceiving her. She told her mother of the apparently inaccurate match predicted by Ancestry.com, and gave Ashby access to her online account. 'When Ashby was alone, she accessed the account to investigate further. When Ashby saw Dr Mortimer's name, she was devastated,' according to the lawsuit. Ashby told her ex-husband, who was equally upset.
The parents 'struggled to cope with their own anguish and had difficulty contemplating the torment the discovery would cause their daughter when she found out', says the lawsuit. Rowlette remained unaware of this until she found a copy of her birth certificate, and noticed it was signed by Dr Mortimer.
In order to be matched with someone on Ancestry.com, both people have to be in the AncestryDNA database. A spokeswoman from Ancestry.com told the Washington Post: 'We are committed to delivering the most accurate results, however, with this, people may learn of unexpected connections.'