$9 million verdict in trial of Colorado fertility doctor who used his own sperm to impregnate patients
Maia Emmons-Boring couldn’t stop shaking as she awaited the verdict Wednesday night in a Grand Junction courtroom.
It had been more than three years since the Texas resident learned through an at-home DNA test that the man she had called her father all her life was not, in fact, her genetic relative.
Instead, Emmons-Boring — along with 16 others across the country — discovered through genealogy testing that they actually shared DNA with a West Slope fertility doctor named Paul B. Jones. .
As Emmons-Boring shook hands with her parents on Wednesday night, a Mesa County jury awarded her family and two others nearly $9 million, finding Jones and her fertility clinic liable for the use by the doctor of his own sperm to inseminate three mothers when they asked for anonymous donors. decades ago.
“It gives people who are doctor-conceived hope that there can be vindication,” Emmons said Thursday.
The historic jury decision, along with a $5 million judgment against a Vermont doctor last month will set a significant precedent for fertility fraud cases nationwide, said Jody Madeira, an Indiana University law professor and fertility fraud expert.
“These two verdicts side by side establish that the public rejects this standard,” Madeira said. “They know this was never the standard of care and they find it ludicrous.”
The verdict also came just days after Colorado lawmakers introduced a bill — the first of its kind in the United States — to give greater protections to donor-conceived people like Emmons and her half-siblings and sisters, in particular by prohibiting anonymous sperm and egg donation.
“Our goal has never been money”
The Grand Junction case stems from a 2019 lawsuit in which more than a dozen children and parents sued Jones and the Women’s Healthcare Clinic of Western Colorado over allegations of fraud, assault, medical negligence , lack of informed consent, breach of contract and extreme and outrageous acts. conduct.
The families claimed that Jones used his sperm instead of sperm from anonymous donors in seven artificial inseminations from 1979 to 1985.
It wasn’t until decades later that the children – now adults – discovered through services such as Ancestry.com or 23andMe that they had half-siblings with a common bond: Paul B. Jones. (The gynecologist surrendered her medical license in 2019, shortly after her alleged actions burst into the public sphere.)
Other members of the original trial settled with Jones before the trial, Emmons-Boring said. But his family had no interest.
“Our focus has never been on the money,” she said. “It was to see him in court.”
In the end, the jury sided with the plaintiffs on the 10th day of the trial, said Patrick Fitz-Gerald, their attorney. The court has not yet entered the judgment order into the public record.
Jones declined to comment on the jury’s verdict and award when reached Thursday, as did a representative for Women’s Healthcare of Western Colorado.
The jury, on the negligence claims, found Jones 30% liable, with the clinic liable for the remaining 70%, Fitz-Gerald said. About $3.75 million of the total judgment of $8.75 was paid in punitive damages to Jones, the attorney said.
“Our clients received justice today after discovering three years ago that Dr. Jones had secretly inseminated their mothers who were looking for an anonymous donor,” Fitz-Gerald said in an email. “This verdict is vindication for all of them and for all victims of fertility fraud in this country.”
After the verdict, Emmons-Boring and the other families poured into the courthouse lobby, sticking together. Finally, a sigh of relief.
The half-siblings, 17 of them now, spoke throughout the case on Facebook Messenger. The oldest of them was born in 1976, 46 years ago.
“Everyone is really happy that Jones has to be punished,” Emmons-Boring said.
The Jones case is particularly important because most such cases never go to trial — and many lawyers won’t even take such cases in the first place, Madeira said. A decision like this could have ripple effects, she said, encouraging more lawyers to take an interest in a long-ignored issue.
“From the shadow to the light”
With the verdict still fresh, Colorado could be on the verge of creating unprecedented protections for donor-conceived people and their families.
SB22-224introduced last week by a bipartisan group of sponsors, would make Colorado the first state in the nation to ban anonymous sperm and egg donation and limit the number of families that can be created from a donor.
Under the proposed legislation, a donor would have to agree, prior to donation, to release identifying information and medical history to a person conceived through the process when they turn 18. And donors would be limited to creating 10 families in or outside of Colorado.
“The promise of anonymity is no longer a promise we can keep,” said state Rep. Kerry Tipper, a Lakewood Democrat and sponsor of the bill.
Two years ago, Tipper also spearheaded legislation that made it a crime for state doctors to impregnate female patients with their own semen — a direct response to Jones’ allegations.
Tipper’s latest proposal would be a first in the United States, but it’s not a new concept in Europe and Australia, where anonymous donations are banned in many jurisdictions. The Australian state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, in 2016 enacted a law which allowed all donor-conceived people to receive identifying information about their sperm or embryo donors – even retroactively.
“Colorado would lead the United States into the 21st century and put children before industry,” Madeira said.
While fertility fraud case as Jones attracts attention for their sensational nature, donor-conceived people should also be entitled to their medical history and ethnic heritage, she said. There is psychological harm in being denied part of your identity.
“If you’re conceived anonymously, that’s half your story you don’t know,” Madeira said. “You shouldn’t have to bear this burden.”
Colorado legislation, she says, “gives donor-conceived individuals a voice. It brings them out of the shadows and into the light.