Fertility patients offered paternity testing after a former fertility doctor was discovered to have used his own sperm to treat a patient, have spoken out about the conundrum they face.
Evidence emerged last year that Christopher Herndon, a fertility doctor at the University of Washington (UW) Medical Centre Reproductive Care clinic in Seattle, Washington since 2017 and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UW Medicine, had used his own sperm to artificially inseminate a patient in California in 2009. UW Medical Centre decided to offer free genetic testing to all IVF and IUI patients of Herndon, when it became aware of the decision by the Washington Medical Commission to revoke his licence in November 2023. However, because DNA testing can put the viability of the embryo at risk, not all patients have been willing to take it up.
'The embryos in storage are realistically my only chance at having a child,' Elizabeth Glenn, who underwent egg retrieval by Herndon after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 31, told Seattle news service KUOW. 'I can't get these fertility years back. Even if I start all over, I'm older and my eggs are older. And, starting over still doesn't erase what happened — the pain, the loss, the trauma.'
'If the embryos are my husband's, if the embryos are my physician's, this is still such a violation,' she said.
The Washington Medical Commission received evidence in April 2023 from a former patient of Herndon's, that her second child conceived via artificial insemination, was in fact his genetic offspring. A DNA test showed this child was not a full sibling of her first child, both of whom she had believed had been conceived using sperm from the same donor. She hired a private investigator to confirm the paternity of her child, and a confidential investigation by the Commission was conducted in June 2023.
Herndon resigned from his posts in September 2023 and the public and UW Medical Centre were only made aware of the case in November 2023.
Susan Gregg, a spokesperson for UW Medicine said the hospital does not believe patients treated there were at risk, due to the safeguards put in place there.
Herndon issued a statement through his lawyer in which he states that he underwent a polygraph test to 'support findings of his longstanding safety' and that there was 'zero probability' of similar allegations being made 'from his many years of practice in the state of Washington.'
The statement said: 'His cooperation with the Washington Medical Commission investigation was centred on a goal to reassure the patients formerly under his care'.
Although fertility fraud is considered a crime in nine US states, it is not illegal in Washington. No criminal case was referred to law enforcement, the King County Prosecutor's Office confirmed to KUOW in December.