At-home DNA tests are all the rage lately. Simply provide a sample of your DNA, typically saliva, mail it to a company, and in a few weeks you'll receive a report of your ethnic makeup and information about your family tree. For most people, it's a fun way to find out more about their family histories. Lately, however, darker stories are emerging about people discovering more than they expected to.
At the end of March, a 36-year-old woman named Kelli Rowlette filed a lawsuit against a fertility doctor after using a popular DNA testing kit—and finding out he used his own sperm to impregnate her mother.
Rowlette, from Washington, sent a DNA sample to Ancestry.com and discovered that her biological father was actually her parents' fertility doctor, now-retired Dr. Gerald E. Mortimer of Idaho Falls, Idaho. She is now suing Mortimer for alleged medical negligence, battery, and fraud.
The doctor “cried” when the family moved
In the early 1980s, Rowlette's parents, Sally Ashby and Howard Fowler, went to Mortimer when they were having trouble conceiving. According to court documents, Mortimer diagnosed Ashby with a tipped uterus and Fowler with a low sperm count. Mortimer recommended Ashby undergo a fertility procedure where she would be inseminated with a mix containing 85 percent of Fowler’s semen and 15 percent from a donor. The couple agreed to the procedure, and chose the donor sperm from a tall college student with brown hair and blue eyes—similar in appearance to Fowler.
However, as Rowlette would discover after receiving the results of her DNA test, Mortimer actually used his own sperm to inseminate Ashby, while telling her he was using the mixture of her husband's and the donor's sperm. Ashby became pregnant in August 1980 and continued visiting Mortimer for post-natal care. She and her husband later conceived a son without medical assistance.
The lawsuit also states that when Ashby told Mortimer the family was going to be moving to Washington, the doctor “cried.”
“Dr. Mortimer knew Kelli Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this to Ms. Ashby or Mr. Fowler,” the complaint says. “Dr. Mortimer fraudulently and knowingly concealed his use of his own genetic material in the Procedure.”
She thought the results were flawed
When Rowlette received her results from Ancestry.com, it listed Mortimer as her biological father. She did not know the name, and was “disappointed” in the results, assuming they were flawed. When she showed her parents, however, they were familiar with Mortimer’s name, and were devastated.
The couple reportedly feared their daughter's reaction and were still contemplating what to do when Rowlette found her birth certificate in October 2017 with Mortimer’s signature on it—and all the pieces fell together.
In addition to Mortimer, the lawsuit also names Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates in Idaho Falls as a defendant. Rowlette's parents are also plaintiffs.
If you or a member of your family have been a victim of medical negligence, we can help. The lawyers at Crandall & Pera Law understand the complexities of medical cases in Kentucky and Ohio, and will protect your rights every step of the way. Please call 877-686-8879, or fill out our contact form to schedule a no-obligation consultation.