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Fertility doctor sued for using own sperm in treating patients

21 September 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1064

A Californian woman is suing her fertility doctor for using his own sperm in her treatment.

Katherine Richards has accused Dr Michael Kiken of 'medical rape' after he used his own sperm, rather than that of an anonymous donor, to conceive her two children forty years ago. The case is one of a number in recent years of so-called 'fertility fraud', exposed by the advent of widely available genetic testing services such as 23andMe and Ancestry. 

'He secretly used his own sperm,' Richards told FOX News. 'Now I have to know that he violated me and that my children, who I love dearly, are the result of his disgusting conduct.'

Dr Kiken was revealed as the biological father after Richards' daughter, Julie Druyor, used a 23andMe test which revealed she was 50 percent Ashkenazi Jewish - unlike either Richards or the supposed sperm donor. When undergoing treatment in 1978 and 1981, Richards had consented only to a sperm donor who met specific requirements, including that the donor be Christian. 

A genealogist identified Dr Kiken as the donor and found that Druyor has a half-brother whose mother was also a patient of Dr Kiken. 

In addition, the test revealed Druyor is a carrier for the genetic disorder Tay-Sachs disease, which is more common in people of Jewish heritage. The disorder can cause seizures, mental and sensory disabilities, and premature death, but only if it is inherited from both parents. Carriers who have only one copy are unaffected. 

'Now I have to deal with the fact that I've passed down his genes,' said Druyor. 'Am I going to see him in my children? I hate that I even have to think about that.'

There have been multiple other cases of doctors using their own sperm to inseminate patients without their consent. Notably, in 2019 DNA testing confirmed that Dr Jan Karbaat in the Netherlands fathered at least 49 of his patients' children in the 1980s. In the US Dr Donald Cline admitted impregnating multiple patients, which resulted in at least 60 children. The case prompted the passing of the first fertility fraud bill in the US, in the state of Indiana (see BioNews 998).

However, states with explicit laws against such conduct are still the minority. Further still, while some states label unconsented use of donor gametes as fraud, only Texas classes it as sexual assault. The number of states with legislation is rising, in response to a surge of similar lawsuits.

Professor Dov Fox, a specialist in bioethics and law from the University of San Diego, California, commented that these cases exhibit 'a profound violation of informed consent.' He told Mercury News: 'We don't know how common it [fertility fraud] is. But it is becoming clear that it's not an aberration.'

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