By SARAH ATWOOD
Capital News Service
LANSING — Some legislators are attempting to criminalize fertility doctors who secretly use their own sperm for patients hoping to conceive, as well as egg and sperm donors who falsify their biographical information.
“People care about what genetic material is used when they are trying to conceive,” said Mary Pollock, the government relations manager for the Michigan chapter of the American Association of University Women. “And the fraud that’s been occurring is disturbing.”
Such fraud includes doctors using their own sperm for patients or a donor falsifying medical or personal information that people evaluate when choosing donors.
The need is to protect reproductive rights and provide access to family health history for people who were conceived by assisted reproduction. And the issue has grown in importance as more people track their family roots.
“Thousands of people receive DNA tests for Christmas,” Traverse City resident Jamie Hall testified recently to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “At least one in 11 will receive a surprise, that their relatives are not who they thought they were.”
Hall discovered her paternity after taking a DNA test with her sister. The doctor had impregnated her mother with his own sperm in the 1950s, but the impacts of that affect Hall’s life today.
Hall is not the only one to be an offspring of the doctor, Philip Pevens, who is thought to have fathered hundreds.
This was especially concerning for Hall because of the doctor’s family medical history.
“Two of his sisters died of cancer,” Hall said. “I have daughters, and I worry about their futures.”
The Senate panel held a hearing on legislation to strengthen regulations on reproductive donors. The bill passed the House and recently was referred to a Senate committee.
The bill defines a reproductive donor as “an individual who provides gametes intended for use in assisted reproduction, regardless of whether the individual receives financial compensation for the donation.” A gamete is a sperm or egg, or any part of one.
“Michigan has no regulations about this,” bill cosponsor Rep. John Roth, R-Traverse City, told the committee. “It’s like the Wild West out there.”
Kara Rubinstein Deyerin is the CEO of Right to Know, a national organization that supports people conceived with assisted reproduction.
“We run a hotline at Right to Know, and from this we’ve learned a significant amount of fraud happens nationwide on both the part of the doctor and the donor,” she said.
The legislation would change Michigan’s fraud laws, according to Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, who sponsored one of the bills in the package.
“Before, Michigan’s fraud laws only accounted for cases of monetary fraud,” Breen said. “In this case, fraud is hard to quantify in a monetary amount.”
Under the legislation, donors found to knowingly falsify information about their identity or medical history could receive up to a five-year sentence, a $50,000 fine or both.
Doctors who knowingly use gametes other than what the patient consented to in writing, including their own, would be eligible for harsher consequences. They could face up to 15 years in prison, a $100,000 fine or both.
“Doctors who have been caught doing this have tried to make excuses,” Pollock said. “They claim they’re doing everything they can to help their patients have a baby. That’s the best case scenario.”
Pollock is concerned that the doctors may have other reasons for using their own sperm, like their job success rate.
“Fertility doctors who are seen as successful keep their jobs,” Pollock said. “If they know their reproductive material works, this could be a motivating factor to use it instead of what the patient agreed to.”
Rubinstein Deyerin agreed.
“There’s also a sort of ‘God complex’ involved,” she said. “The doctors think they’re healthy and smart, and so would provide good gametes for the patient.”
Some people may be concerned that stricter background checks could reduce the number of donors, Pollock said. A lot of people will donate for payment, and the consequences for omitting or falsifying personal information could be a deterrent.
Concerns have been raised about falsifying education levels being held to the same liability standard as falsifying medical history.
“You have to remember that there’s three parties involved: the donor, the recipients and the child,” Rubinstein Deyerin said. “It should be in the recipients’ hands to decide who the best option is for them based on all available and accurate information.”
What matters for a recipient can be personal, and it’s unfair to expect that people will not care about certain non-physical traits, she said.
“If someone feels the need to lie in order to donate, maybe it’s a good thing that they may now be dissuaded,” Breen said.
The goal is to protect patients’ rights, she said.
“I can’t even imagine the trauma a person would go through in this situation. It’s essentially medical rape.”
Roth said he is not optimistic about the chances the legislationwill be brought to the Senate floor by the end of the year during the lame duck session. But he said he will persist.
“I am ready to start over next term,” he said.
Main sponsors of tHouse Bills 5713-5717, are Reps. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit;Kelly Breen, D-Novi; Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian; John Roth, R-Traverse City. Cosponsors include Sue Allor, R-Wolverine; Felicia Brabec, D-Pittsfield Township; Robert Bezotte, R-Howell; Ken Borton, R-Gaylord; Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township; Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette; Brenda Carter, D-Pontiac; Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit; Mary Cavanagh, D-Redford; Cara Clemente, D-Lincoln Park; Kevin Coleman, D-Westland; Alex Garza, D-Taylor; Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids; Kara Hope, D-Holt; Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit; Tullio Liberati Jr., D-Allen Park; Gregory Markkanen, R-Hancock; Cynthia Neely, D-Flint; Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann; Pat Outman, R-Six Lakes; Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti; Julie Rogers, D-Kalamazoo; Tim Sneller, D-Burton; Samantha Steckloff, D-Farmington Hills: Richard Steenland, D-Roseville; Regina Weiss, D-Oak Park; Tenisha Yancey, D-Harper Woods; and Jeff Yaroch, R-Richmond.