The Los Angeles fertility clinic being sued over an alleged embryo mixup was once named in an allegation of sexual misconduct. Over a decade ago, CHA Fertility Clinic’s then medical director was hit with a lawsuit alleging he “seduced” and had a sexual relationship with a patient, and lied about the egg retrieval process in order to keep seeing her, reports Business Insider. It’s a damaging revelation for a clinic currently facing scrutiny, but also a hit to the broader fertility industry, which faces a loudening critique over its lack of regulation.
The recent lawsuit targeting the co-owners of CHA Fertility Clinic alleges medical malpractice and negligence after a woman gave birth to twins only to discover that the babies genetically belonged to two other, separate couples. She then gave the babies to their genetic parents—after the physical and emotional marathon of gestating and giving birth to what she believed were her children.
In response to this horrifying allegation, Business Insider began investigating the clinic and unearthed a 2006 lawsuit filed by patient Jo-Anne Biafore against Thomas Kim, who was the clinic director at the time. “Biafore alleged in the lawsuit that Kim tried to seduce her when she first went to him for fertility treatment in August 2002,” reports Business Insider, citing a 13-year-old Los Angeles Times article, adding that the “relationship” allegedly “became sexual” and endured for over two years.
During that time, Biafore said, “Kim lied to her about the number of eggs he had collected so she would keep coming back to him.” When she discovered the alleged lie, Biafore said she suffered “extreme mental and emotional distress, humiliation, fear and anger.” The suit, which asked for $8 million in damages, resulted in a confidential settlement. Neither Kim nor Biafore responded to Business Insider’s request for comment.
The Medical Board of California investigated Kim at the time, because sexual relationships with patients are illegal in the state, but “it does not appear that he had his license taken away,” says Business Insider. Shortly thereafter, the New Jersey Medical Examiners Board gave Kim a license to practice in the state, reprimanding him for “professional misconduct” while determining that it was an “isolated incident” and that his judgment was “blurred” in part because Biafore was also a physician, according to USA Today. Now, he “appears to be working as medical director for the RMA of Southern California fertility clinic in Los Angeles.”
Kim was long gone from CHA Fertility by the time this recent embryo swap is alleged to have taken place, but the unearthing of the years-old lawsuit is an example of what can happen when reporters start pulling on a thread. In many ways, this revelation of the 2006 case is less about this particular clinic, or this particular embryo mixup, than it is about casting a more critical eye toward the fertility industry, which has been described in recent years as everything from “lightly regulated” to “almost totally unregulated” to “unregulated.”
The nonprofit Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, of which the majority of assisted reproductive technology clinics are members, sets practice guidelines, but there is no governmental body overseeing the fertility industry. There has been journalistic oversight, though, in the form of recent high-profile stories about IVF horror stories—specifically around swapped sperm and mixed-up embryos. Sadly, these stories are likely to keep coming.