PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An Oregon doctor who went to medical school at OHSU is suing the hospital after sperm he donated for research resulted in 17 children being born in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1989, Dr. Bryce Cleary donated sperm to the OHSU Fertility Clinic under the conditions that no more than five children would be conceived and they would be born to mothers outside the Pacific Northwest.
According to the $5,250,000 lawsuit filed in Multnomah County, at least 17 children were born from Cleary’s sperm and many of them live in Oregon.
“This is a civil case that at its heart concerns the ethics and the moralities involved in the creation and insemination of human life,” said Cleary’s attorney Chris Best. He also said the fertility clinic “made promises to act responsibly and ethically, but ultimately broke those assurances with zero regards to the impact on real lives — specifically one of its own student’s life.”
Cleary was in his first year of medical school when he and his male cohorts were solicited to donate his sperm. Cleary only agreed once OHSU made promises that any of the then-agreed upon 5 children his donation would produce would be on the East Coast.
Cleary was supposed to be a completely anonymous donor but in March 2018, two young women found him with the information they learned from Ancestry.com.
One of those daughters, Allysen Allee, attended the lawsuit’s emotional press conference on Wednesday — during which she met her donor father for the first time.
“I feel for Dr. Cleary and I understand his frustrations and emotions towards it. I can’t imagine what he’s going through,” she said. “I didn’t learn I was donor-conceived until I was 20.”
Alison is now 25-years-old. She said Dr. Cleary and all of his lawyers have been very respectful of any privacy wishes the donor-children may have.
“She’s an amazing young lady,” said Cleary. “It’s been great to meet her. But it’s difficult, I worry about her kids and what this has put her through.”
Allee, along with another donor-sibling she’s now grown close to, found the connection to Dr. Cleary and many more siblings on Ancestry.com. She fully supports her biological father in the lawsuit.
“My concern in this whole situation is that it’s wrong,” she said. “Something needs to change.”
However, she does have good relationships with many of her donor-siblings, the first of which she connected with in 2015. They were interested in knowing how many of them were out there — but the number continued to grow.
“It feels like OHSU didn’t take into consideration that they were creating humans. All of our conceptions hurt someone trying to help our families,” she said. “Knowing that you were a product of fraud against someone else is emotionally overwhelming.”
The lawsuit claims there was a high chance some of the children were raised in the same community as Cleary, his wife and their own four children. In fact, he learned some of them attended the same college and church as their siblings.
The situation also created the possibility that Cleary may have unknowingly come into contact with his own offspring, even examining them in his capacity as a primary care doctor in Corvallis.
“As a result of the Defendant’s utilization of Plaintiff’s sperm, the likelihood of Plaintiff’s three sons and one daughter…. coming into contact socially, professionally or romantically with the ‘clinic children’ was greatly enhanced….” the lawsuit states.
It also claims OHSU encouraged mothers to use the sperm from its fertility clinic because using sperm from a “scientific professional” like Cleary, would give their children “superior physical and intellectual genetic makeup.”
Specific amounts aren’t yet known, but Cleary’s lawyer is confident the fertility clinic made a profit off of his sperm.
Cleary is claiming the fertility clinic committed fraud by using his sperm outside the parameters he agreed to when he made the donation.
He says learning about these children has caused “extreme emotional and psychological distress affecting his personal, parental and marital relationships.”
“It was very difficult for my wife. Knowing how I feel as a father, and how important that is to me, she was very concerned,” he said. “At the time, I had no idea of the scope and I was fine. It’s been very difficult.”
Dr. Cleary had gone onto Ancestry.com to look into his genealogy, just as his donor-daughters did. When the matches came back, Clearly grew concerned.
“I want this not to happen to people, I want this to change,” he said. “The idea that you can produce that many kids from one donor and to put them all in the same area — there’s got to be some sort of reform.”
As far as relationships and obligations to these children go, Cleary said there are many things to consider.
“I consider myself first and foremost a dad to my kids,” he said. “I know that ethically, I may not be responsible for anything [with the donor children], but I wouldn’t feel like I’m doing my job. I have a moral responsibility to make sure this doesn’t happen [again].”
His own children have expressed to him that they don’t feel the need to have much of a relationship with their donor-siblings.
One of his sons told reporters he believes OHSU needs to be brought to justice. He asked “What happens if a donor-kid comes and asks for a kidney? Morally obligated, are we required to save a life if we can?”
Cleary grappled with the idea of going forward with a lawsuit, wondering what implications it would mean for his family and for those children he’d never known about.
“By making it public, do you cause people to lose their privacy? Do they get a sense that I wish they weren’t born? Because that’s not true,” he said.
Cleary hopes that no future families are harmed in this manner.
“[OHSU’s] actions have caused irreparable harm,” he said.
Going forward, the plaintiff waits on OHSU’s response and documents related to the case.
OHSU provided the following statement in an initial response to the lawsuit:
OHSU treats any allegation of misconduct with the gravity it deserves. In light of our patient privacy obligations and the confidentiality of protected health information, we cannot comment on this case.