In an incident that sounds more like an episode of Law & Order SVU than real life, a former UCSF fertility doctor is being accused of covertly artificially inseminating a patient with his own sperm.
The doctor, Christopher Herndon, was a fellow at UCSF from 2008 to 2011, per the Chronicle. (He’s now based in Washington State.) One of the patients he assisted with artificial insemination around 2009 apparently realized last year that something was wrong: She thought she had two children with the same sperm donor father, but genetic testing showed that they didn’t have the same paternity.
A subsequent ancestry test reportedly revealed a familial connection to the Herndon name, and a private investigator confirmed that one of Herndon's siblings was the biological uncle or aunt of her second child, as the Seattle Times reported.
The woman, whose identity has not been released, reported the alleged violation to the Washington Medical Commission last summer, and Herndon surrendered his state medical license. But his actions have apparently raised some serious questions within UCSF, and hospital staff has had to contact the other patients he treated over a decade ago. Staff has reportedly been working through the list since the beginnning of December and offering genetic testing for families.
In a statement, UCSF expressed their condemnation of Herndon's actions, deeming them "inexcusable" and stating their intention to explore all legal options, including potential civil and criminal actions.
It’s unclear how many times Herndon has allegedly committed “fertility fraud,” which is a rare but increasingly occurring trend when medical practicioners use their own genetic material without patient consent. As the Chronicle reported, Donor Deceived, a website tracking such cases, has identified similar instances involving nine doctors in California, resulting in 18 pregnancies dating back to the 1970s. The widespread accessibility of genetic testing has brought these cases to light.
Image of UCSF Fertility Clinic at Mission Bay via Google Street View.