Couples often turn to fertility doctors to find hope and the promise of family—but some of these physicians have abused their power by unwittingly impregnating women with their own sperm.
For decades, Dr. Quincy Fortier treated thousands of patients struggling to conceive in Nevada, continuing to practice medicine well into his 90s. He was an esteemed physician and was thought of as an early pioneer in the field of infertility treatment—but that reputation was tarnished after the popularity of home DNA kits revealed a disturbing truth.
Fortier had impregnated dozens of women with his own sperm, lying to his patients that the sample had come from a random donor or even the woman’s own husband.
HBO’s new documentary “Baby God” delves into the shocking discoveries and uncovers some of the children Fortier fathered during his lengthy career, which began in 1945, including Wendi Babst, a retired detective.
Babst made the life-altering discovery that the man she and her mother had always believed to be her biological father was not after a home DNA kit she had purchased to find more out about her genealogy revealed the surprising connection she had to her mother’s fertility doctor.
As Babst uncovered a growing list of half-siblings she never knew she had, she struggled with her feelings about the man who ultimately fathered her.
“He was impregnating people into his 70s,” Wendi Babst said in the documentary. “He never lost his license. He died in good standing. You know, he just was able to kind of get away with doing this.”
The number of known children Fortier sired has now reached 24 men and women across the United States who range in age from their 30s to their 70s, The New York Post reports.
“Was he trying to see how many people he could have on this earth before he left?” a baffled Dorothy Otis wonders in the documentary after discovering her son Mike had been fathered by Fortier.
Otis said she was never trying to get pregnant and had just gone into the doctor in her early 20s to be treated for an infection.
But Fortier isn’t the only fertility doctor accused of deceitfully impregnating patients seeking medical help.
“I think it’s really between 20 to 30 cases now, some of which are public and some of which are not,” Jody Lyneé Madeira, a professor of law at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, told Oxygen.com.
Madeira has been tracking these types of cases since 2016 and said the number of accused physicians—and the number of siblings linked to each case—has only continued to grow as home DNA testing has become more common.
A lot of the physicians rationalize their behavior in a similar manner, Madeira said.
“They will try to get out of it using various excuses like, ‘There are no laws against it’, ‘I was trying to help desperate patients’ or things like that.”
But, according to Madeira, the damage to the families involved in the deception can often be “profound.”
“If someone victimizes you through another crime, it doesn’t change your DNA,” she said. “If someone victimizes you through fertility fraud, then they are actually inserting themselves, not only their genetic material into your parent’s body or your body, but they are inserting themselves into your family tree and so that is very, very personal, it’s very disturbing and I think that it’s a more intimate offense.”
In addition to Fortier’s case, there are other prominent examples of fertility doctors accused of using their own sperm to impregnate their patients:
Dr. Cecil Jacobson
Dr. Cecil B. Jacobson’s shocking case of deception landed him behind bars—and inspired a made-for-TV movie starring Melissa Gilbert—after prosecutors estimated he may have fathered more than 70 children during his career as a Fairfax County fertility specialist, according to The Washington Post.
Jacobson was accused of falsely telling patients they were pregnant even when they weren’t and using his own sperm for artificial insemination.
Federal prosecutors said Jacobson often lied to his patients—telling them they were pregnant—and had them pay for numerous medical procedures including sonograms where he reported the baby being “really active” before claiming the patients had miscarried and the fetus had “reabsorbed” into their bodies, The Chicago Tribune reported in 1992.
“I’m very angry still,” Vicki Eckhardt testified of the seven times Jacobson had claimed she was pregnant. “When we went to him, we put our trust and faith in him. He turned into the biggest nightmare we’ve ever been through.”
Some of his patients did have actual pregnancies—but prosecutors said in some of those cases, the doctor used his own sperm to artificially inseminate his patients. Jacobson told the women that the sperm had come from an anonymous donor or was selected to closely match the physical characteristics of their husband.
Jacobson was sentenced in 1992 to five years in federal prison after being convicted on 52 counts of fraud and perjury for lying to his patients.
U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris said at the time that he had “not seen a case where there has been this degree of emotional anguish and psychological trauma,” The Washington Post reported after the sentencing.
Before the sentence was handed down, Jacobson asked for “forgiveness” and said he had “helped a great deal” of other patients.
“I was totally unaware of the anger, anguish and hate I have caused—until these proceedings,” he said.
Dr. Donald Cline
For decades, Dr. Donald Cline, an Indianapolis-area fertility specialist, helped families achieve successful pregnancies—but what his patients didn’t know was that Cline was often using his own sperm to impregnate his patients and would even end up treating his own child years later.
Cline worked with countless families during the 1970s and ‘80s to help their dreams of having a family come to fruition.
Like Jacobson, Cline often told the women he was using an anonymous donor, or in some cases claimed to be using their husband’s sperm for the insemination, according to The New York Times.
Madiera told Oxygen.com that Cline is now believed to have fathered 76 children while serving as a doctor.
As the allegations came to light, those impacted by the dishonest practices were left grappling with their new realities.
“It’s definitely emotional on a lot of different levels, seeing how upset it makes my mom, some of the things that go around in my head, like ‘Am I the way I am in some respect because he is who he is?’ It plays mind games with you,” Matt White told The Times after discovering Cline was his father. “There’s times I get really angry. I am confused. Like, why?”
Alison Farber Kramer told local station WTHR she didn’t discover Cline was her biological father until the allegations against him started to surface in the national media.
Her parents had been family friends with Cline for years when her mother struggled to conceive and sought help from him. Kramer’s mother eventually gave birth to her and her twin sister—believing the conception had been made possible by a donation from a medical student working in Cline’s office at the time.
When Kramer struggled with her own fertility issues years later, she began seeing Cline, never realizing her own genetic link to him until she did an at-home genetic test.
“It’s just been very hard to deal with, hard to accept. It’s hard to wrap my head around,” an emotional Kramer told the outlet.
Cline later admitted giving his sperm to some of his patients and agreed to plead guilty to two felony obstruction of justice charges for initially lying to state investigators about his actions. He was given a 365-day jail sentence that was suspended. After his conviction, he also surrendered his medical license and is barred by the state medical board from ever getting a license again, The New York Times reported.
Canadian fertility doctor Norman Barwin has been accused of not only using his own sperm to impregnate his patients—but using the wrong sperm that didn’t match the intended donor in multiple other cases.
As of June 2020, a proposed class-action lawsuit against the disgraced doctor included 16 claimants who were Barwin’s biological children and another 75 people who said they were conceived with a sperm donor that did not match the intended donor, according to the Ottawa Citizen. In some of those instances, the women believed they had conceived with their husband’s sperm. In other cases, the women thought they had conceived with an anonymous donor but it did not match the donor they thought they were using.
Rebecca Dixon testified before a discipline committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario that she was shocked to discover the man who had raised her was not her biological father, The Canadian Press reported in 2019. She discovered the deception after she was diagnosed with celiac disease, a hereditary condition that neither of her parents had. A DNA test ultimately revealed that Barwin was actually her father.
“In that moment, my life changed forever,” she said, adding that the discovery made her feel “contaminated” and ashamed.
Another woman, identified as Patient M, testified that she was horrified to discover her teenage daughter was conceived using an unknown sperm donor rather than her husband’s sperm as the family had believed.
“I still felt so violated. I felt dirty, almost as if I’d been raped,” the woman said, according to the outlet.
She testified that the discovery had been even more shocking because Barwin had shown her the vial of sperm with her husband’s name on it before the insemination.
The discipline committee revoked Barwin’s medical license and fined him $10,730. The following year, it was revealed that Barwin’s clinic had repeatedly violated federal regulations designed to maintain the safety of donor eggs and sperm, yet was allowed to continue to practice for more than a decade, CBC News reported.
Health Canada inspection records found that as early as 1999, Barwin’s clinic was ordered to quarantine all of its donated sperm after the clinic was unable to provide the necessary paperwork required by law, including documentation about whether the sperm had met safety requirements for diseases like HIV and chlamydia. Yet, the clinic still received a “compliant” finding that year. The CBC was never able to find any records indicating whether the clinic followed the order, and in the years to follow the clinic faced similar allegations.
A 2002 inspection again found missing paper work, missing sperm from the recorded inventory and sperm vials that were no longer viable after they had fallen to the bottom of a holding canister.
When the College of Physicians and Surgeons began investigating complaints about his office in 2012, Barwin voluntarily offered to no longer offer artificial insemination and IVF services.
Dr. Arthur Leader, a fertility expert who served on the Canadian Standards Association committee which developed updated rules for assisted human reproduction, called the outlet’s report “troubling.”
Dutch fertility doctor Jan Karbaat died in 2017 at the age of 89, but two years later, DNA tests were made public by a Dutch court that revealed he had fathered at least 49 children, according to the Independent.
One documentary on the clinic in the Netherlands even suggested that Karbaat may have fathered up to 200 children during this career after using his own sperm to inseminate his patients, CNN reported in 2019.
The DNA was matched to the 49 siblings after a toothbrush with the doctor’s DNA was seized from his home after his death in 2017. The Dutch court later agreed to make the DNA tests public after a two-year legal battle by dozens of people who suspected the fertility doctor could be their biological father, the Independent reported.
Karbaat, who had long denied the allegations against him, had worked as a fertility doctor for decades and once ran a clinic in Rotterdam. The clinic was shut down in 2009 after authorities found “abuses with donor seeds and administrative abuses.”
Part of violations included exceeding the agreed upon number of children per donor, CNN reports.
Dr. Paul Jones
Cheryl Emmons and her husband desperately wanted to start a family together, but after her husband’s bout with testicular cancer they worried that may never become a reality.
Colorado-based Dr. Paul Jones offered the couple a solution: use an anonymous sperm donation from a medical student, local station KUSA reports.
“I really thought he was doing a good thing for me and my sweet husband,” Emmons said.
She got pregnant and later gave birth to her daughter Maia in 1980. The family sought Jones' help again five years later and Emmons got pregnant with her daughter Tahnee.
Jones helped deliver both babies, periodically sent the family letters and even randomly ran into the family at a mall—making a special point to say hello to Maia—without ever revealing he was her biological father. Maia Emmons-Boring would make the devastating discovery after sending her DNA to Ancestry.com, KUSA reports.
But she wasn’t the only person to make the startling discovery. As many as six families would later file a lawsuit against the doctor, alleging he had used his own sperm in procedures from 1975 to 1989, the Associated Press reported earlier this year.
An attorney for Jones has said that the families don’t have a legal complaint, arguing that the condition of anonymity should benefit both parties in the donation process.
When confronted about the allegations by KUSA, Jones remained tight-lipped.
“I don’t deny it. I don’t admit it,” he said.
In 2019, Jones voluntarily surrendered his medical license, according to The Daily Sentinel.
Dr. Kim McMorries
Eve Wiley discovered her parents had used artificial insemination with donated sperm when she was 16 years old after discovering an email while snooping through her mother’s computer, ABC News reports.
With the help of Dr. Kim McMorries, a fertility doctor in Nacogdoches, Texas, Wiley’s parents selected Donor #106 from the California Cryobank. Wiley later tracked the donor down, a man named Steve Scholl, and formed a tight bond with him even calling him “Dad” and frequently telling him “I love you.”
But she’d make another shocking discovery after taking a home DNA kit. Scholl—the donor her parents selected—was not her biological father. McMorries had injected her mother with his own sperm.
Wiley wrote McMorries a letter confronting him about the discovery and he admitted to mixing his own sperm into the sample after previous attempts with Donor #106 had failed, according to ABC News.
McMorries told her the idea of mixing samples had been suggested to him by a mentor earlier in his career.
“If the husband’s sample was too poor, then combining two donor samples might do better,” he wrote. “The thinking at the time was that if the patient got pregnant, there was no way to know which sperm affected the conception.”
He said he couldn’t tell her mother that he had mixed the sample with his own sperm because of a confidentiality agreement he signed when making the donation.
McMorries' attorney told ABC News he was a "good and fine man who is an excellent, well respected OB/Gyn" who "has a reputation of trying to help his patients as much as he possibly can."
Wiley and Jessica Stavena—another biological child of McMorries—have been able to find at least seven children conceived through artificial insemination with McMorries’ samples, according to a September 2020 article in Texas Monthly.
At the time of the article, McMorries still retains his medical license.
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