Boston-area fertility doctor sued after allegedly secretly impregnating woman with his own sperm

Boston-area fertility doctor sued after allegedly secretly impregnating woman with his own sperm

Local News

Sarah Depoian’s daughter allegedly discovered that Dr. Merle Berger was her biological father through home DNA testing kits.

Sarah Depoian poses with her daughter Carolyn Bester. (Photo provided by Sarah Depoian via AP)

A renowned Boston-area fertility doctor is facing a federal lawsuit from a former patient who alleges he secretly impregnated her with his own sperm during an artificial insemination procedure decades ago

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Boston federal court, Maine resident Sarah Depoian explained that she and her husband went to Dr. Merle Berger — the now-retired co-founder of Boston IVF — in 1980 for help getting pregnant. According to the lawsuit, Berger “promised to perform an insemination using the sperm of a medical resident who resembled [Depoian’s] husband, who did not know her, and whom she did not know.”

Instead, the doctor secretly substituted his own sperm, Depoian’s lawyer alleged during a news conference Wednesday.

“He did so without her consent and against her wishes,” said Peiffer Wolf partner Adam Wolf. “Some people call this horrific act medical rape. But regardless of what you call it, Dr. Berger’s heinous and intentional misconduct is unethical, unacceptable, and unlawful.” 

Depoian’s daughter, Carolyn Bester, was born in January 1981. 

Speaking to reporters, Bester said she learned the truth about her parentage earlier this year, after purchasing DNA testing kits from Ancestry.com and 23andMe. Among her DNA matches were Berger’s granddaughter and second cousin, she said. 

“I spoke to one of them, and I started piecing it all together,” Bester said. “To say I was shocked when I figured this out would be an extreme understatement. It feels like reality has shifted.” 

Berger’s lawyer, Ian Pinta of Todd & Weld, disputed the lawsuit’s claims in a statement on the doctor’s behalf: “The allegations, which have changed repeatedly in the six months since the plaintiff’s attorney first contacted Dr. Berger, have no legal or factual merit, and will be disproven in court.” 

Yet Wolf contended that Berger didn’t deny the allegations when initially confronted. He asserted that Depoian’s story has been consistent from the start and said they look forward to proving their case. 

Who is Dr. Merle Berger? 

The allegations in Depoian’s lawsuit predate the 1986 founding of Boston IVF, a network of fertility clinics with 10 locations in Massachusetts and several more in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York, and Indiana. Boston.com has reached out to Boston IVF for comment on the lawsuit. 

Dr. Merle Berger of Boston IVF.

Berger, who has homes in Boston and on Martha’s Vineyard, is a former professor at Harvard Medical School and the author of the 2020 book “Conception: A Fertility Doctor’s Memoir.” Upon Berger’s retirement that year, Boston IVF noted in a now-archived blog post that the doctor’s career is “essentially the history of IVF in America.” 

Pinta described Berger as a “pioneer” in the field of medical fertility who helped thousands of families have children over the course of half a century. 

“He is widely known for his sensitivity to the emotional anguish of the women who came to him for help conceiving,” Pinta said. “The allegations concern events from over 40 years ago, in the early days of artificial insemination. At a time before sperm banks and IVF, it was dramatically different from modern-day fertility treatment.”

As mail-order genetic testing kits have risen in popularity, there have been a number of high-profile cases where doctors were accused of inseminating patients using their own sperm. For example, the 2022 Netflix documentary “Our Father” tells the story of Indiana fertility specialist Dr. Donald Cline, who fathered at least 94 children without disclosing himself as the sperm donor. 

Doctor’s alleged acts were an ‘extreme violation,’ former patient says

Depoian said she and her husband “fully trusted” Berger when they sought his help conceiving. 

“It’s hard to imagine not trusting your own doctor,” she told reporters Wednesday. “We never dreamt he would abuse his position of trust and perpetrate this extreme violation.”

She said having her daughter by her side has given her the strength to come forward with her story. 

“I am struggling to process it, but this never, ever will change the love we have for our daughter, Carolyn,” Depoian said. “If anything, this has lit a fire in me to fight for her and any other unsuspecting victim, whether by Dr. Berger or another fertility doctor.”

Wolf said the new allegations raise questions about whether Berger might have secretly used his own sperm to inseminate other patients. He also suggested that Bester might file a lawsuit of her own against the physician at some point in the future. 

Bester, who lives in New Jersey, cited her 5-year-old son as one reason she and her mother are seeking accountability in court. 

“I want to be able to look my son in the eye and tell him that we stood up for something that was wrong that happened in our family,” she said.

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