The Medical Board of California is investigating a well-known Los Angeles fertility specialist over a patient’s allegations that the doctor seduced her into a lengthy sexual relationship and then lied to her about her treatment.
Medical board spokeswoman Candis Cohen confirmed that her office was looking into Dr. Thomas Kim, an expert in egg freezing. It is illegal in California for a physician to have a sexual relationship with a patient unless the patient is a spouse or long-term partner, she said.
Kim has received national attention for setting up what was billed as the first commercial egg bank in the U.S. As he pitched it, single women could freeze their eggs during their childbearing years for use later.
According to a lawsuit filed last year, Dr. Jo-Anne Biafore began seeking fertility treatment from Kim in August 2002. About the same time, the suit alleged, Kim tried to seduce her and the two had a sexual encounter June 11, 2003.
The sexual relationship continued until July 2005, the suit said.
During the relationship, Kim lied to her about the number of eggs that had been collected, the suit said, causing her to continue seeking treatment from him. The alleged misrepresentations were not specified.
When Biafore learned the truth, the suit said, she suffered “extreme mental and emotional distress, humiliation, fear and anger.”
Kim recently agreed to settle the lawsuit, but terms are confidential, attorneys for both sides said this week. Notice of the settlement was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court last week.
Kim did not return a call seeking comment. His lawyer, James Kjar, denied that Kim did anything wrong. He said Kim had a consensual personal relationship with Biafore, who is also a physician.
“Both parties were physicians and certainly were both aware of the potential pitfalls of engaging in a relationship and were certainly on equal footing,” Kjar said.
He said his client denies that he took advantage of his relationship with Biafore. The suit was filed, he said, only after Kim terminated the relationship. “There is no abuse or advantage taken of any physician-patient psychological relationship by Dr. Kim whatsoever,” Kjar said.
Biafore, a radiologist in Georgia, did not return a telephone call and an e-mail seeking comment. Her lawyer, John F. Denove, confirmed that the case had been resolved, but declined further comment.
Kim is medical director of CHA Fertility Center in Los Angeles. The Times reported earlier this week that Dr. Kwang-Yul Cha, a Korean infertility expert who leads the clinic’s parent company, has been accused of plagiarizing a junior researcher’s doctoral thesis. He has denied wrongdoing but faces sanctions from a leading fertility journal.
The CHA clinic was also sued. Its lawyer, Jonathan Brenner, said he could not discuss the matter.
Biafore’s suit sought $1 million for pain and suffering, $2 million for emotional distress and $5 million in punitive damages against Kim and the CHA Fertility Clinic.
Cohen, the medical board spokeswoman, said 26 physicians were disciplined in the last fiscal year for sexual misconduct, which includes inappropriate touching during exams and out-of-office relationships with patients. Seventeen of them lost their licenses.