Infertility Doctor Is Found Guilty of Fraud, Perjury
A federal jury convicted an infertility specialist, who admitted inseminating patients with his own semen, of 52 counts of fraud and perjury Wednesday.
On the fourth day of jury deliberations in Alexandria, Va., Dr. Cecil Jacobson was found guilty of lying to women about the identity of the sperm donor used in their artificial insemination procedures and of telling other women that they were pregnant when they were not.
The case has provoked an inbtense debate, raising disturbing ethical questions about medical practices and the doctor/patient relationship and initiating calls for tougher regulation of sperm banks and fertility clinics.
Critics contended that Jacobson’s behavior violated his patients’ right to privacy and their right to be fully informed about their treatments.
Furthermore, the case is expected to prompt action on the federal or state level toward tighter controls on the fertility industry, which is now only loosely regulated. Such legislation is already pending on Capitol Hill.
Jacobson, 55, who may have fathered as many as 75 children in the Washington area during the late 1970s and early 1980s, faces up to 280 years in prison and $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced May 8.
Jacobson showed no reaction when the verdict was delivered but said afterward: “I spent my life trying to help women have children. It’s a shock to be found guilty of trying to help people. . . . I certainly did not willfully or intentionally harm anyone. . . . I did not break any law.”
Prosecutor Randy Bellows, who characterized Jacobson to the eight-woman, four-man jury as “a man who routinely lies to his own patients,” declined to say whether he would recommend that Jacobson go to jail.
Jacobson, who remains free on bond, is expected to appeal.
Jury foreman Daniel Richard told reporters gathered outside the courtroom that “we knew Jacobson was lying to those patients.” Another juror, Deborah Earman, said that she believed Jacobson “was a good man” who “went wrong somewhere and mistreated a lot of women. He definitely did some wrong.”
Jean Blair, a former patient who testified that Jacobson had told her six times that she was pregnant and had miscarried, said she hopes that Jacobson goes to jail. Her husband, James Blair, said Jacobson “fooled a lot of people for a long time and I’m glad he didn’t fool this jury.”
Jacobson is a former George Washington University geneticist believed to have been the first physician to perform amniocentesis in the United States. For a long time, he was one of only a few practitioners in the Washington area who could perform the prenatal procedure, which detects Down’s syndrome and other abnormalities in a developing fetus.
Later, Jacobson opened his Reproductive Genetics Center Ltd. It was while treating women there that the incidents for which he was charged occurred. In addition to lying to them about the source of the semen he used, he was also charged with fooling 10 women into thinking that they were pregnant by injecting them with unusually frequent doses of a hormone that he knew would create false positive results in a pregnancy test. Later, the prosecutor charged, he told the women that their fetuses had died and been reabsorbed by their bodies.
A series of witnesses--who testified anonymously out of concern for their children--said that Jacobson had told them he would find donors who would match the physical characteristics of the patients’ husbands and that the donor would not be aware of their identity. Genetic tests on 15 of the children, however, showed that Jacobson was 99.99% likely to have been the father, the prosecution said.
But defense attorney James Tate argued that Jacobson had been very successful in helping many high-risk women become pregnant and give birth to healthy babies. Jacobson, testifying in his own behalf, said he was unaware that the hormone he was using could cause false positive pregnancy test results.
In comments made before the trial, Jacobson acknowledged that he had used his own semen, saying that he did not believe he had done anything wrong. He said that he believed his own fresh semen was more effective than a bank’s frozen sperm. And, he said, because he had been faithful to his wife, he was confident he would not transmit any dangerous infectious diseases to his patients.
There is some evidence that Jacobson’s actions, while unusual, were not isolated. The results of a 1987 survey conducted by the federal Office of Technology Assessment--virtually ignored at the time--showed that as many as 2% of the fertility doctors polled had done exactly the same thing as Jacobson, using their own sperm to inseminate patients.
In a separate case several years earlier, Jacobson was prohibited from practicing clinical medicine in Virginia after the state medical board determined that he had misled women who had paid $5,000 for fertility treatments. Jacobson, a native of Utah, returned there to conduct privately funded genetic research.