The family of Sam and Patti Frustaci, a 35-year-old Riverside woman who gave birth to the nation's first septuplets in 1985, today received a $6.2-million settlement from a Westwood infertility clinic. The parents had sued charging the treatment led to conception of the children, three of whom died shortly after birth.
The amount of the settlement from Tyler Medical Clinic in Westwood was announced this afternoon in Santa Monica Superior Court.
The Frustacis have charged that infertility specialist Dr. Jaroslav Marik failed to properly monitor the mother's use of the powerful fertility drug that led to her pregnancy. The result, they said, was the death of three of the sextuplets and the severe physical and devlopmental impairment of the three survivors.
The Frustacis contended that the surviving children suffer profound lifelong disabilities, including cerebral palsy and serious eye problems. They said Marik failed to conduct a key test before artificially inseminating Patti Frustaci, a test that might have warned of problems to come.
Marik denied the allegations and objected strenuously to the settlement discussions, which went on without his consent.
Lawyers for Marik said Patti Frustaci was obsessed with getting pregnant and took a higher dose of the fertility drug than was prescribed. The defense also presented a far cheerier picture of the surviving children, saying that "if you saw them, you wouldn't be able to see anything wrong with them."
When the sevenfold pregnancy lessened the likelihood of full-term, healthy babaies and threatened the mother's health as well, doctors recommended a full abortion or "selective reduction" that would leave one or two embryoes with a good chance to thrive.
The Frustacis, both members of the Mormon faith, said the taking of lives in such fashion was contrary to the will of God and the teachings of their church.
Patti Frustaci was referred to the Tyler clinic after repeated attempts at pregnancy had failed. After treatment with the fertility drug Pergonal, she became pregnant, and the septuplets' older brother was born in March, 1984.
In August, 1984, she returned to the clinic for another attempt. Pergonal was used again, and this time, septuplets were conceived.
Marik explained that multiple pregnancies are always possible when fertility drugs are used.
"It's the chance you take," he told a reporter. "It's rather simplistic to think you can control the situation."
When her obstetrician, Dr. Martin Feldman, learned of the multiple pregnancy, he advised either a full or partial abortion, but Patti Frustaci refused.
"My feeling is that it is murder," she said. "I can't take Baby A and keep C and kill B and keep D. I'm not God."
The septuplets were born more than 10 weeks early at St. Joseph's Hospital in Orange.
One died at birth. Four others died within the next three weeks.