Fertility doctor Cecil B. Jacobson, convicted of using his own sperm to impregnate patients, was sentenced to five years in prison Friday during an emotional courtroom scene punctuated by his apology and plea for mercy.
"I am deeply sorry," said Jacobson, 55, who prosecutors say may have fathered up to 75 children. "As God is my witness, I did not intend to harm these people."
In imposing the sentence, which included $116,805 in fines and damages, U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris said some of Jacobson's former patients had written to tell him they were treated like human guinea pigs and were still receiving therapy because of the experience.
"I've not seen a case with the degree of emotional anguish . . . expressed by the victims," Cacheris told Jacobson, who was once hailed as a pioneer in the use of amniocentesis to discover abnormalities such as Down's syndrome in developing fetuses.
The case has drawn international attention, raising ethical questions about doctor-patient relationships and initiating widespread calls for increased regulation of sperm banks and fertility clinics.
The case has prompted the introduction of legislation in Congress to place additional controls on the fertility industry, now only loosely regulated, mostly by states.
Before sentencing, Jacobson said he was unaware of the anger and hatred felt by the women who came to his northern Virginia practice from 1976 to 1988. He gave up practicing medicine in 1989 after the Virginia State Medical Board said it had sufficient evidence to revoke his license.
During his jury trial, which ended March 4, Jacobson acknowledged that he used his own sperm for artificial insemination when other, anonymous donors were not available. He said his own fresh sperm was better than frozen sperm from a sperm bank.
Eleven men and women testified that they never would have agreed to the use of insemination if they had known Jacobson would provide the sperm.
Prosecutors introduced evidence to show that Jacobson fathered 15 children, but estimated that the actual number might be as high as 75.
Jacobson also was convicted of defrauding other patients by injecting them with hormones so tests would indicate they were pregnant and later falsely telling the women they had miscarried. Prosecutors said he used this technique to keep patients coming back in order to build a six-figure income from the practice.
"He took away the most important thing in the world from all of us," former patient Christine Maimone told the Associated Press. "He told us we were going to have a baby and then it was gone."
Prosecutor Randy Bellows urged the judge to impose a 10-year sentence because of the suffering of Jacobson's patients. Defense attorney James Tate appealed for probation, contending that his client's contributions to medical research were a great benefit to society. Jacobson is now doing genetics research in Provo, Utah.
Under federal sentencing rules, he must serve all five years of his sentence as well as three years of probation. He was released on bond pending the outcome of an appeal of his conviction.