BOSTON – Dr. Merle Berger, one of the founders of Boston IVF and a former professor at Harvard Medical School, has been sued by a former patient, who alleges that he secretly impregnated her with his own sperm more than 40 years ago.
Maine resident Sarah Depoian said she visited Dr. Merle Berger in 1980 for fertility services and he told her he could perform an insemination that used sperm of a medical resident unfamiliar to Depoian who resembled her husband.
“That was not atypical early on when you didn’t have sperm banks,” said Dr. Alyssa Burgart, a Stanford bioethics expert.
Depoian said instead, Berger used his own sperm and impregnated her. Depoian said she wouldn’t have consented if Berger told her he was going to use his own sperm.
Depoian’s daughter, Carolyn Bester, was born in January 1981.
The lawsuit said Bester made the discovery when she purchased DNA kits from Ancestry.com and 23andMe this year. According to the lawsuit, Bester learned she was related to Berger’s granddaughter and his second cousin. After speaking with some of them, she learned that Berger was her biological father.
“To say I was shocked when I figured this out would be an extreme understatement,” said Bester.
In a statement, Depoian’s lawyer said she contacted Berger and he didn’t deny that she consented only to an insemination with the sperm from someone who didn’t know her and who she didn’t know.
“We fully trusted Dr. Berger,” said Depoian. “He was a medical professional, it’s hard to imagine not trusting your own doctor. We never dreamt he would abuse his position of trust and perpetrate this extreme violation.”
According to Boston IVF’s social media, Berger retired in 2020.
Berger’s lawyer also released a statement on his behalf: “Dr. Merle Berger was a pioneer in the medical fertility field who in 50 years of practice helped thousands of families fulfill their dreams of having a child. He is widely known for his sensitivity to the emotional anguish of the women who came to him for help conceiving. The allegations concern events from over 40 years ago, in the early days of artificial insemination. At a time before sperm banks and IVF, it was dramatically different from modern-day fertility treatment. The allegations, which have changed repeatedly in the six months since the plaintiff’s attorney first contacted Dr. Berger, have no legal or factual merit, and will be disproven in court.”