News Center I-Team Investigation: Fertility Fraud

A Miami Valley lawmaker is pushing to change Ohio law to make it illegal for a fertility doctor to father a child without telling families.

WHIO’s I-Team investigation found multiple cases of doctor deception, leaving behind a trail of victims who didn’t learn for decades what had happened.

In Indianapolis, Dr. Donald Cline was accused of switching out donor’s sperm for his own to produce more than 20 children. He was convicted of lying to investigators, but received no jail time, leaving victims outraged.

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“I had to go home and tell my husband that he is not the father of my child,” said one of his victims.

That case prompted Indiana to pass a new law making fertility fraud illegal, making it one of five states with fertility fraud laws. ­

“My estimation at this point is that we have 40 to 50 (cases) across the world,” said Indiana University professor Jody Madiera, one of the nation’s top experts on fertility fraud.

“We have more that are concealed by non-disclosure agreements and that leads to hundreds to thousands of doctor-conceived offspring,” Madiera added.

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“Doctors apparently thought they were giving patients what they wanted – a baby,” said Michelle McGowen, a PHD at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and a medical ethics expert. McGowen said there are other theories – maybe it was money, convenience or ego.

“They see themselves as a baby maker, creators,” she said. “They will do whatever it takes to bring home a baby.”

Oakwood nurse Carrie Lauterbach’s story is different, but says she understands the pain of other victims.

Lauterbach used a home DNA test and discovered a well-respected Cincinnati fertility doctor, who died in 2008, was her donor and her biological father, not a medical student as she had believed for most of her life.

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“Because I’m a nurse, a OB nurse, it was even more shocking and just absolutely unethical. That’s where I landed. So unethical. I can’t believe somebody would do this,” Lauterbach said.

In Ohio, and even at the national level, there isn’t a law that specifically says it’s illegal for a doctor to do this.

“This is a terrible experience. It’s devastating for family identities and devastating for family relationships,” Madiera said.

Lauterbach said she now considers herself an advocate to make sure other people aren’t victimized, so she’s backing a Miami Valley state lawmaker’s plan to make fertility fraud illegal.

“One of every 10 women suffer from infertility so this is not an issue that’s just effecting some people,” said Rep. Jena Powell. “It’s on the rise here in the United States. When we take a look at this, we have to say how do we protect families, individuals, women holistically. One of the most personal decisions, whether they start a family or not and how they go about doing so.”

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A U.S. Health and Human Services study found half a million women use donated sperm to get pregnant every year. Powell’s bill would make it illegal for a doctor to knowingly switch sperm donors and use their own.

However, McGowen said the state medical board has strict standards that are enough regulation.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Code of Conduct doesn’t specifically ban the use of doctor-donated sperm in fertility cases, but states the physician-patient relationship is based on ‘transparency, trust and honesty.’

“There are enough mechanisms that already exist that are well suited to sanction wrongdoers professionally and legally through existing codes of conduct,” McGowen said.

Representative Powell disagrees.

“It’s crucial that we pass legislation. When a woman wants to start a family, when she walks into an artificial reproductive technology clinic that laws are in place with state government that will protect her, protect her child. Protect her family in the long run,” Powell said.

As state lawmakers debate the penalties for this, the search continues for people who may not know they were victims of fertility fraud.

“My hope is that we can help families now and in the future hold doctors accountable,” Lauterbach said.

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