A woman in Idaho has filed a lawsuit against her former fertility doctor, accusing him of using his own sperm to impregnate her during an artificial insemination procedure over three decades ago.
In 1989, Sharon Hayes sought fertility treatment from Dr. David R. Claypool, an obstetrician-gynecologist, after she was unable to conceive with her husband. According to court documents filed last week, Dr. Claypool charged Ms. Hayes $100 per insemination session, claiming the sperm came from an anonymous donor who matched her husband’s characteristics.
Ms. Hayes gave birth to a daughter in 1988. Last year, after taking a direct-to-consumer DNA test, the now 34-year-old daughter discovered Dr. Claypool is her biological father. At least 16 other people born from Dr. Claypool’s sperm have also been uncovered through genetic testing.
The civil complaint alleges Dr. Claypool committed fraud, failed to obtain proper informed consent from his patient, and violated consumer protection laws. It states he deceptively used his own genetic material while representing the sperm as coming from an anonymous donor. Ms. Hayes is seeking monetary damages for the emotional distress inflicted on both her and her daughter.
Dr. Claypool, who has not actively practiced medicine since 2005, claims to have no knowledge of the pending lawsuit or the plaintiffs.
Unfortunately, troubling cases like this are not uncommon in the era of at-home DNA test kits and increased consumer genetic screening. Numerous fertility specialists across the country have been accused of secretly substituting their own sperm for that of anonymous donors without the patient’s consent. There is currently little oversight or regulation around donor identification practices at sperm banks and fertility clinics.
While connecting with previously unknown half-siblings has been a positive outcome, Ms. Hayes’ daughter describes enduring an “identity crisis” after learning her biological father was actually her mother’s physician. The experience has been emotionally scarring for both mother and child.
This case highlights the pressing need for stricter regulations surrounding informed consent and donor identity disclosure in fertility medicine. Patients have a right to know the true provenance of genetic material being used to conceive their children. With any luck, this lawsuit will spur much-needed reform in assisted reproduction procedures and policies.