When Kelli Rowlett decided to take an Ancestry.com DNA test, she had hoped to find out some interesting facts about her heritage. What she ended up learning—that her biological father was actually her mother’s fertility doctor and that he had inseminated her with his own sperm without permission—was more than anyone in the family had bargained for.
The Washington Post reports that Rowlette has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Idaho against that doctor, Gerald E. Mortimer, accusing him of “medical negligence, fraud, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.”
Her parents, Howard Fowler and Sally Ashby, met Mortimer while seeking fertility treatment. Ashby was diagnosed with a tipped uterus, and her husband had a low sperm count, according to Mortimer. But he had a suggestion:
The doctor recommended that Ashby undergo a procedure in which she would be inseminated with both sperm from her husband and an anonymous donor who matched the couple’s specifications, the lawsuit says. The couple requested a donor who was in college and taller than 6 feet with brown hair and blue eyes — and Mortimer told them that he had found a donor matching their description, the suit says.
But the lawsuit claims that when Mortimer performed the procedure in the summer of 1980, he used his own sperm. He did not match the couple’s specifications.
Ashby and Fowler only realized the truth about this extreme violation when Rowlette approached them with the results of her DNA test, which mentioned Mortimer by name as a match. The two discussed whether or not to reveal the truth to their daughter, but then Rowlette found her original birth certificate, which was signed by Mortimer, who was also her mother’s obstetrician.
Ancestry.com has provided a statement on the issue, saying their service “helps people make new and powerful discoveries” about their families. They also low-key warn people to set their profiles to private if they don’t want any surprises:
“We are committed to delivering the most accurate results, however with this, people may learn of unexpected connections,” it read. “With Ancestry, customers maintain ownership and control over their DNA data. Anyone who takes a test can change their DNA matching settings at any time, meaning that if they opt out, their profile and relationship will not be visible to other customers.”