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Couple files lawsuit after DNA test reveals sperm mix-up

CBS News logo CBS News 2/3/2022 CBS News
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An Ohio couple filed a lawsuit against a fertility clinic and a doctor after they claim that a sperm mix-up resulted in their daughter not being biologically related to the man who raised her.

Mike and Jeanine Harvey went to an Akron City Hospital fertility clinic in 1991 for help getting pregnant. The couple said Dr. Nicholas Spirtos performed intrauterine insemination – injecting Mike's sperm directly into Jeanine's uterus to increase the chances of a pregnancy.

The couple soon got pregnant and their daughter Jessica was born. Jessica told CBS News' Consumer Investigative Correspondent Anna Werner that she grew up proud of her Italian heritage, especially on her father's side.

"My entire life, I have always been so passionate, so proud of my heritage on both sides where I came from, how my ancestors got here, what makes me today," Jessica said.

She planned to celebrate her 30th birthday in Italy. To help trace relatives there, she took an Ancestry DNA test in December 2020 – and soon got the shock of her life.

"The test comes back, I'm sitting at my desk at work, actually, I opened up and see some English. There's Irish, Welsh, German. Like, where's the Italian, maybe Sicilian, What? What? Nothing," said Jessica. "My stomach just dropped and I knew something was, I knew something was wrong from the get-go."

She says the test showed no connection to her father, and another test from LabCorp confirmed that there was a zero percent chance she was related to her father. The news shocked her family.

"I'm like, wait a minute, I carried a total stranger's child, you know, for nine months, and who in the world is this other half of this child belong to?" Jeanine said.

The couple is suing Dr. Nicholas Spirtos and Summa Health System, claiming that Spirtos injected sperm from a different man, who the complaint says along with his wife, was undergoing fertility treatments" with the same doctor, "at the same time" as the Harveys.

"It shouldn't be that the fertility clinic transferred some stranger's sperm into Mrs. Harvey's body," said family attorney Adam Wolf. "That is not OK. It's not OK under the law. It's not OK under any sense of medical ethics. And it shouldn't happen ever."

Dr. Spirtos did not respond to our requests for comment. A Summa Health system spokesperson said in a statement, "We take this allegation seriously and understand the impact this has on the family. At this point, we have not met with the family or conducted testing of our own."

In its statement, Summa Health System also said it has "very limited information" and "given the amount of time that has passed, it remains our hope that the attorneys representing the family will work with us to make that next step a priority" – in reference to meeting with the family and doing their own round of testing.

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Professor Dov Fox, who directs the University of San Diego's Center for Health Law, Policy, and Bioethics, said these cases can be tough to win in court.

"Courts tend to say something like you wanted a kid, you got a kid, even a healthy one. So what are you complaining about? How are you worse off than you otherwise would have been?" Fox said.

He said 24 states have bans on suing over so-called "wrongful births." Fox believes there should be a way for parents to sue over problems with procedures like fertility treatments, even if a healthy child is born. The Harveys said they want changes in regulation of the fertility industry.

"It's almost a gamble, and you shouldn't be gambling when you're creating a human being a life," Jessica said.

Jessica has spoken to her biological father. She said he told her he was pleased to learn he had a child, telling her he'd gone his entire life without having any children, and now, he told her, he has a daughter.

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