Close up of In Vitro Fertilization in which donor sperm is injected into harvested egg cell to create embryo. Getty Images.
Ohioans may soon get protections from fertility fraud after an extensive criminal justice reform bill was passed by the Senate last Wednesday.
A 27-2 bipartisan vote sent the bill to the House where lawmakers will further scrutinize it before being sent to Gov. Mike DeWine for final approval. The bill was first introduced in February by state Sen. Nathan Manning.
“Some of the aspects of this bill will be labeled as tougher on crime. Increasing penalties and looking at ways to make sure that our society is safe in the short term. A lot of this bill is long-term and making sure that people that have entered our judicial system, exit the judicial system as better people,” Manning said.
Manning said that he had been working on such criminal justice reform bill for two years. However, it includes some of the changes based on recommendations of the Ohio Criminal Justice Recodification Committee from its Final Proposal issued on June 15, 2017. The original 1,792-page bill was shaved down to 975 pages by the time Manning and his colleagues were set to vote.
The bill focuses on various aspects of criminal law regarding crimes and correctional facilities, trial procedures, correctional officers and employees, coroner records, inmate internet access, and civil protection orders. It also has provisions for delinquent child adjudications and case transfers, youthful offender parole review, traffic offenses, certificates of qualification for employment, licensing collateral sanctions, criminal record sealing and expungement, State Criminal Sentencing Commission duties, and certain assisted reproduction matters.
One assisted reproductive matter includes when a health care professional uses reproductive material from a person or source that the parties receiving the procedure did not consent to. This is also known as fertility fraud.
An example of fertility fraud is a health care professional using his sperm to fertilize the egg of one of his patients, despite the patient having only consented to use the sperm of another donor. Currently, Ohio law does not prohibit a doctor from using his sperm to impregnate a patient or other misrepresentations about the donor, and provides no legal protection for women and their children who find out years later.
Manning shared his reactions on the Senate floor Wednesday and said he watched the 2019 Netflix documentary, “Our Father.”
The documentary detailed a woman discovering that she had 90 half-siblings all fathered by fertility doctor Donald Cline.
“This is something I was not aware of,” Manning said. “It was shocking to me that this was happening and even more shocking that under the law, with talking to prosecutors and legal experts, that this was not illegal.”
One of the proponents of the bill was Betsie Norris. Norris is the executive director and founder of Adoption Network Cleveland. In her testimony in a committee hearing Tuesday, she explained that fertility fraud can have harmful implications on communities and adoptees.
“Although fertility fraud may seem unrelated to adoption, in reality, adoptees share many of the same concerns as donor-conceived individuals,” Norris said.
Norris said that there have been laws established in nine other states to protect people from this act amongst the increased awareness of the issue since the 2019 documentary.
“With the advent of 23 And Me and other similar companies, this phenomenon has only recently come to light, so corrective legislative action is both timely and appropriate,” Norris said.
Carrie Lauterbach, a resident of Oakwood, Ohio, explained that this was all too familiar to her in her testimony.
“After taking a direct-to-consumer DNA test, I discovered I had six half-siblings and consequently discovered all the half-siblings are related to the fertility doctor our mothers used to conceive us,” Lauterbach said.
Lauterbach said that she can provide a unique perspective on the situation because not only is she a product of fertility fraud, she is a medical professional and has sought treatment for herself.
“Because of my experience with fertility treatment, and understanding the oaths medical professionals take, I find the doctor’s actions particularly reprehensible,” Lauterbach said.
According to an analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, any person who violates the bill’s prohibition can be charged with a third-degree felony. The court must also notify any professional licensing board of the health care professional if they plead guilty or are convicted.
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