A Washington woman and her parents are suing a former fertility doctor whom they claim secretly used his own sperm in a procedure to impregnate the mother — and hid it from the family for decades.
In a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. District Court in Idaho, Kelli Rowlette, 36, accuses Dr. Gerald Mortimer of using his own sperm to impregnate her mother Sally Ashby after Ashby and her then-husband Harold Fowler turned to the doctor during their fertility struggles.
“Since discovering Dr. Mortimer’s actions, Ms. Ashby, Mr. Fowler, and Mrs. Rowlette have been suffering immeasurably,” the suit states. “Had Mr. Fowler and Ms. Ashby known Dr. Mortimer was going to inseminate Ms. Ashby with his own genetic material, they would not have agreed to the Procedure.”
In a statement to PEOPLE, a lawyer for the family says they have asked for privacy to “focus on the difficult process of healing from this trauma.”
Dr. Mortimer did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
In 1979, when Ashby and Fowler lived in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the former couple had trouble conceiving and turned to Dr. Mortimer, a now-retired obstetrician gynecologist, for help, according to the lawsuit. Dr. Mortimer allegedly determined that Ashby had a tilted uterus and diagnosed Fowler with a low sperm count.
So, he suggested that the couple undergo artificial insemination using a mixture containing 85 percent of Fowler’s “genetic material” and 15 percent from an anonymous donor, the suit states. Ashby and Fowler agreed, but only as long as the donor was “a college student who physically resembled Mr. Fowler” and was over six feet tall.
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“Dr. Mortimer ultimately performed the procedure. However, instead of using donor genetic material and Mr. Fowler’s genetic material as promised, Dr. Mortimer inseminated Ms. Ashby with his own genetic material,” the family alleges in the suit. “Dr. Mortimer falsely represented that he had used donor genetic material and Mr. Fowler’s genetic material, and intentionally concealed this fact from Ms. Ashby and Mr. Fowler.”
The Story Begins to Unfold
Ashby gave birth to Rowlette on May 20, 1981 and conceived a son two years later. The family eventually moved from Idaho Falls to Washington state which, they said, upset Dr. Mortimer.
“Dr. Mortimer cried when Ms. Ashby informed him they were moving,” according to the suit. “Dr. Mortimer knew Kelli Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this to Ms. Ashby or Mr. Fowler.”
The story began to unfold decades later when Rowlette submitted a DNA sample to the genealogy website Ancestry.com last year. In July 2017, the results showed a parent-child DNA relationship between Rowlette and Dr. Mortimer. Having no knowledge of her parents’ procedure, Rowlette had no idea who Dr. Mortimer was — but Ashby and Fowler did.
“Mrs. Rowlette initially believed the Ancestry.com results were in error,” the suit states. “When Ms. Ashby saw Dr. Mortimer’s name, she was devastated … Mr. Fowler was also devastated by the news.”
Ashby and Fowler, who are now divorced, wrestled for months with whether they should tell Rowlette who Dr. Mortimer was. But, in October 2017, Rowlette stumbled upon her birth certificate and found that it had been signed by Dr. Mortimer.
“Mrs. Rowlette was horrified and contacted Ms. Ashby and Mr. Fowler in a panic to relay what she had found,” the lawsuit states. “Since discovering Dr. Mortimer’s actions, Ms. Ashby, Mr. Fowler, and Mrs. Rowlette have been suffering immeasurably.”
Now, the family is suing Dr. Mortimer, his wife Linda and Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Idaho Falls, accusing them of medical negligence, fraud, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.