As consumer DNA tests become increasingly popular, we've seen an influx of cases in which families have accused doctors of committing fertility fraud—a crime in which the physician uses unauthorized sperm, usually his own, for artificial insemination procedures. It's a practice that has devastated many parents and children like Eve Wiley, a 32-year-old Texas woman who learned that her biological father was a stranger.
"You build your whole life on your genetic identity, and that’s the foundation," Wiley told the New York Times. "But when those bottom bricks have been removed or altered, it can be devastating."
According to the publication, Wiley's mother, Margo Williams, had gone to Dr. Kim McMorries seeking a sperm donor, as Wiley's father was believed to be infertile. It wasn't too long before Dr. McMorries informed Williams he had located a donor at a California-based sperm bank, and the family continued with the assisted reproduction process.
Per the Times:
Mrs. Williams gave birth to a daughter, Eve. Now 32, Mrs. Wiley is a stay-at-home mother in Dallas. In 2017 and 2018, like tens of millions of Americans, she took consumer DNA tests. The results? Her biological father was not a sperm donor in California, as she had been told — Dr. McMorries was. The news left Ms. Wiley reeling.
Prior to taking the DNA test, Wiley had contacted the man whom she believed served as her mother's sperm donor. He was Steve Scholl, a Los Angeles-based writer and publisher who has spent years developing a "beautiful father-daughter relationship" with Wiley.
Scholl, who officiated Wiley's wedding, said he was also shocked by the DNA results.
"It took me a while to process," he told the Times. "We felt so much like we’d found each other. We didn’t know how the reproductive industry worked. But very quickly, we both decided not to let this change anything for us."
Perhaps even more shocking is that these deceptive practices aren't illegal across the country, which is why Wiley has pushed for legislation that would criminalize fertility fraud in her home state of Texas—laws that go further than those implemented in other states like Indiana and California.
Back in June, Texas passed a law that prohibits physicians from using "human sperm, eggs or embryos from an unauthorized donor." Those who break this law are required to register as a sex offender, as the practice is classified as sexual assault.
Texas Rep. Stephanie Klick sponsored the bill after hearing about Wiley's experience. She also challenges the criticism that a sexual assault designation is too severe, as she believes fertility-fraud is comparable to rape.
"It was a very compelling story of deception, and we’re seeing more and more cases of assisted reproduction being used improperly," Klick said. "We need to make sure that what happened doesn’t happen again [...] There's a physical aspect to it—there is a medical device that is being used to penetrate these women to deliver the genetic material. I equate it with rape, because there's no consent."
The Times also highlights previously reported cases involving fertility specialists Dr. Donald Cline, Dr. Norman Barwin, Dr. Jan Karbaat, and the late Dr. Gary Don Davis, all of whom are accused of using their own sperm to inseminate their patients without consent.
Dr. Jody Madeira told the Times she has been tracking nearly two dozen cases of fertility fraud across the United States, Europe, and South Africa. Madeira theorizes that some doctors may have used their own sperm because they did not have immediate access to donor banks or frozen specimen.
"They could have self-justified their malfeasance in an era of 'doctor knows best,'" Madeira said. "In their minds, they may just have been helping their patients by increasing their chances of getting pregnant with fresh sperm for higher fertilization rates."
However, Madeira also acknowledges that some of these physicians "may have had darker motivations."
"I would bet a lot of these doctors had power reasons for doing this—mental health issues, narcissistic issues—or maybe they were attracted to certain women."