The widow and parents of a man who died of a genetic disorder are suing a West Hollywood fertility clinic, alleging tissue containing his sperm, which his wife hoped to one day use to start a family, was instead used on other patients.
Central California resident Sarah Robertson, the 40-year-old widow of Aaron Robertson, and his parents, John and Karen Robertson, are seeking at least $750,000 in damages from Reproductive Fertility Center, In Vitrotech Labs Inc. and Dr. Peyman Saadat.
Their Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges negligence, fraud and both intentional and negligent “spoilation” of evidence.The Robertsons’ lawyer, Andrew Vorzimer, called the case “profoundly heartbreaking” and said he had never seen anything like it his many years of practice. He compared it to a 1990s scandal at the UC Irvine Center for Reproductive Health in which fertility doctors, without permission, used eggs and embryos from some women to impregnate others.
A woman who works at the Reproductive Fertility Center, which is located at 9201 Sunset Blvd., declined comment on the lawsuit.
According to the plaintiffs’ court papers, high school sweethearts Sarah and Aaron Robertson married in 1995. Aaron Robertson was born with Marfan syndrome, and the couple hoped to start a family when medical advances existed so that the disorder would not be passed to their children, according to the lawsuit.
In May 2004, Aaron Robertson suffered a severe stroke, causing him to fall into a permanent coma. His wife and parents agreed to have a testicular sperm extraction procedure done so that his sperm and tissue could be preserved, allowing the 29-year-old dying man to continue his legacy despite his imminent and premature death, the suit states. Aaron Robertson’s parents say they paid $2,000 for the procedure, which was conducted at UCLA Medical Center shortly after his stroke.
The plaintiffs say the tissue containing the sperm was placed in six vials and taken to the Tyler Medical Clinic in Beverly Hills for cryopreservation. Two days after Aaron Robertson’s death on June 1, 2004, his widow says she signed a storage agreement with Tyler Medical Clinic. But two years later, a storage invoice showed a different name and the Robertsons learned the sperm was being transferred to companies owned by Saadat, the suit says.
After Sarah Robertson expressed concern for the safety of the tissue, the doctor who ran Tyler Medical Clinic told her that he was retiring, that Saadat had bought his business and assured her that nothing negative would happen to the tissue, the lawsuit states.
After buying Tyler Medical Clinic, Saadat moved the sperm bank to the Reproductive Fertility Center, according to the plaintiffs. In April 2014, Sarah Robertson notified the Reproductive Fertility Center that she was “prepared to proceed with fulfilling her dream to have a family,” having bought a home and obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees, according to the complaint. She asked that the vials be transferred to UCLA Medical Center so she could begin fertility treatment, the suit says.
Sarah Robertson’s degrees were in nursing, and the technology existed by this time to successfully screen for Marfan syndrome, according to Vorzimer. She had not remarried and intended to raise any children as a single parent, he said.
The clinic’s office manager said only one of the six vials could be accounted for and that she did not know what happened to the others, the suit alleges. In response, Sarah Robertson began making arrangements to have the remaining vial of sperm transferred and demanded that an inventory be conducted to find the missing tissue, the suit states.
In March 2015, Saadat told Sarah Robertson that the stored vials were likely destroyed in a fire at the Tyler Medical Clinic, but the blaze actually occurred a year before Aaron Robertson’s death and sperm extraction, the suit says. The plaintiffs believe that at the time Sarah Robertson was told about the fire, her husband’s tissue had actually been used on other women at the linic without the permission of the Robertsons or the unsuspecting other patients, the suit states.
After Sarah Robertson arranged for the remaining vial to be transferred to UCLA Medical Center, Saadat and the clinic’s office manager repeatedly tried to convince her to reconsider and allow Saadat to proceed with medical procedures to impregnate the plaintiff, the suit states. “I give you a baby, I give you a baby,” Saadat told Sarah Robertson, according to the lawsuit.
But the Robertsons believe that no other sperm specimens from Aaron Robertson actually existed, having all been used on other unsuspecting patients, the suit says. The only way the clinic could have moved forward with treatment for Sarah Robertson was with the “non-consensual use of sperm belonging to another individual” and not from her late husband, according to the suit. The clinic’s office manager later admitted that the alleged remaining vial of tissue belonged to another person with the same first name, but different last name, the suit states.
The Robertsons, having already lost a husband and a son, became concerned that biological children of Aaron Robertson may have inherited the genetic disorder that killed him before the screening technology reducing such chances was achieved, the suit states. “Plaintiffs are informed, believe and … allege that defendants refused and continue to refuse to take any precautionary steps to warn and protect these unsuspecting victims,” the suit states.