Like millions of others, Kelli Rowlette sent a sample of her DNA to Ancestry.com to learn more about her and her family’s background.
What she learned, however, was horrifying.
The results showed her biological father was not the man she thought was her father. Instead, it was the doctor who delivered her.
In a lawsuit filed last week in Idaho, Rowlette, 36, accuses Gerald E. Mortimer — a now-retired obstetrician gynecologist in Idaho Falls — of fraud and medical negligence, among other things.
The family is suing Mortimer and Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls, accusing them of medical negligence, fraud, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.
The suit claims Mortimer knowingly used his own semen sample when Rowlette’s parents, Sally Ashby and Howard Fowler — who have since divorced — turned to him for fertility help in the early 1980s. Ashby had been diagnosed with a tipped uterus and Fowler had a low sperm count.
According to the suit, Mortimer advised Ashby to undergo a procedure in which she would be inseminated with sperm from her husband and an anonymous donor. The couple had required a donor who had some similarities as Fowler — someone at least 6-feet tall with brown hair and blue eyes.
But for the next three months, Mortimer allegedly used his own sperm to inseminate Ashby. The doctor claimed he was using a mixture of her husband’s sperm and that of matching donors. The doctor did not meet the specifications Ashby and Fowler requested of a donor, however.
“Dr. Mortimer fraudulently and knowingly concealed his use of his own genetic material in the procedure,” according to the complaint. “Dr. Mortimer knew Kelli Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this.”
Ashby became pregnant and, in May 1981, Mortimer delivered what turned out to be his own daughter. But he never divulged being the biological father, according to the lawsuit.
In July, Rowlette, from Benton County, Wash., received the notification about the DNA match to Mortimer from Ancestry.com. She reportedly told her mother she was disappointed in the unreliability of the service.
But her mother her mother recognized the doctor’s name, according to the lawsuit, and remembered his help in the insemination procedure.
“Ms. Ashby contacted Mr. Fowler, now her ex-husband, and relayed the information she obtained from Ancestry.com. Mr. Fowler was also devastated by the news,” the lawsuit states.
Since learning of Mortimer’s connection to Rowlette, the woman and her parents have been “suffering immeasurably,” the suit claims.
Mortimer is not the first fertility doctor to be accused of breaching their patients’ trust and using their own sperm instead of that from donors to impregnate women.
Donald Cline, a retired fertility doctor in Indianapolis, was given a one-year suspended sentence in December, but served no jail time, after lying to investigators about using his own sperm to impregnate dozens of women
What angered Cline’s former patients was the troubling fact he couldn’t be charged with any other crimes because Indiana law doesn’t outlaw fertility doctors from using their own sperm.
Let’s hope lawmakers do more to protect families from this type of betrayal.
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