Lawsuits Filed in Fertility Fraud Cases

By: - September 16, 2020 12:00 am

Liz White, an alleged victim of fertility fraud, speaks during a 2019 committee hearing at the Indiana Statehouse on a measure making it a felony for doctors to use their own sperm or eggs without the patient’s consent. Two new lawsuits have been filed in California and Virginia on the same issue. Darron Cummings/The Associated Press

Lawyers for fertility fraud victims filed lawsuits Wednesday in California and Virginia, seeking damages against two doctors who allegedly used their own sperm to impregnate patients decades ago, resulting in children who are now adults.

The lawsuits against Dr. Phillip M. Milgram of La Jolla, California, and Dr. Michael S. Kiken of Lynchburg, Virginia, were filed in California and Virginia state courts, respectively. Each seeks unspecified monetary damages and for the doctors to reveal their personal medical history to the affected families. Adam Wolf, the attorney who filed the suits, said neither doctor had replied to the legal filings. Both are still practicing medicine.

Milgram did not immediately return a Stateline call for comment. A medical office worker answering the phone of the number listed in Lynchburg for Kiken responded that no one by that name worked there.

Wolf, of the Peiffer Wolf firm headquartered in New Orleans with branches across the country, said the United States is “on the brink of uncovering thousands of fertility fraud cases,” mostly due to the improvements in DNA technology, the popularity of home DNA testing kids and the fact that most of the children conceived in the early days of in vitro fertilization are now adults.

Wolf said he hopes the simultaneous lawsuits against the doctors will lead to federal and state anti-fertility fraud legislation. So far, only three states have specific laws against the use of a practitioner’s own sperm to impregnate patients: California (under an interpretation of a 1996 law), Indiana and Texas.

While some cases of doctors secretly impregnating patients with their own sperm have been known for years, most have resulted in private settlements. Wolf said his firm filed suit against the two doctors when they refused to settle the cases.

“We have been contacted by people across the country who have suffered in a similar way to families we had here today,” Wolf said in a Zoom call with alleged victims and reporters. “Those doctors were willing to resolve their cases. These are the first few cases, that we have had to file over. These doctors have decided to take their chances in court.”

Regulations were spotty at best during the early days of fertility treatments, leading to the ease with which doctors sometimes substituted their own sperm for anonymous samples. The AIDS epidemic in the 1990s and beyond led to U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules regarding use and testing of all human tissue, which likely reduced the misuse of reproductive material.

One of the alleged victims, Katherine Richards, who lives in the San Francisco area and who was a patient of Kiken’s, said he violated her trust and “did the unthinkable to me.” Her daughter, Julie Druyor of Dallas, who was conceived as a result, said she is “hurt, disgusted and confused.” She added that she hoped publicity over the lawsuit would help others to deal with similar situations and that the doctors would be held accountable. 

Druyor said when she got her DNA results back from a test kit, and did some research, she found she is a carrier for Tay-Sachs disease, which is associated with Ashkenazi Jews. To her knowledge neither of the parents she grew up with had that background.

The results also showed that she had a half-brother she didn’t know about. Further research turned up that they shared a connection to Kiken, she said.

Beverly Willhelm of San Diego, the mother in the case against Milgram, said it has now come to light that the doctor has serious health issues, which she didn’t know about when she thought she was getting sperm from a “physically and mentally healthy individual.”

Jimmy Mallas Jr., also of San Diego and the son of Beverly Willhelm, said he was worried about his mom.

“Who was looking out for my mother?” he said on the Zoom call. “Who is looking out for all of the mothers?”

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers education and consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.