UCI Scandal’s Bottom Line
The state auditor, Kurt Sjoberg, has concluded that the three UC Irvine doctors charged with stealing eggs from women undergoing fertility treatments owe the school more than $2 million. If true, that is an indictment not just of the physicians but also of the university’s monitoring of the doctors.
Sjoberg said last week that Drs. Ricardo Asch, Jose Balmaceda and Sergio Stone failed to report nearly $8 million in revenue from their partnership with the university from 1992 to 1994. Sjoberg said the trio owed the university $1.47 million of the money, plus nearly $800,000 in interest. Equally troubling was the auditor’s finding that the doctors owed the school $216,000 from money they reported to UCI but that the university failed to collect.
The disclosure nearly three years ago that eggs harvested from some women were given to others, some of whom later gave birth, exposed flaws in the university’s oversight of the doctors and their once-acclaimed fertility clinic. Clearly, here was a second lapse in supervision.
The doctors have denied any intentional wrongdoing. Asch and Balmaceda left the country. Stone was convicted last year of fraudulently billing insurance companies but was acquitted of tax evasion and conspiracy.
The fertility scandal did produce some needed changes. The University of California has instituted new procedures for oversight of research involving humans, and not just in reproductive biology. UCI has closed its fertility clinic, and university clinics at Davis, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are receiving closer scrutiny. In Sacramento, the Legislature made theft of human eggs a crime.
The university has settled scores of lawsuits filed by former patients at the clinic, paying out nearly $15 million. More than a dozen other lawsuits are pending.
Before 1995, the university accepted doctors’ reports of the clinic’s income and how much the school was owed. Now the university collects payments and pays doctors, a much better way to ensure proper accounting.
The scandal demonstrated the complex web of legal and ethical issues surrounding advances in reproductive technology. It also showed the absence of laws covering this relatively new field of science and the lack of university oversight.
The latest revelation demonstrates how extensive the scope of needed reform really was.