Fertility Doctors Used Their own Sperm to Get Patients Pregnant. The Children Want Justice

For VICE News

In 2019, Traci Portugal took a home DNA test, looking for answers about her medical history after some recent, unexplained medical issues. While nothing of note had come up on her mother’s side, her father’s side was largely a mystery. He died when she was 16 years old, and his family was either deceased or estranged. But when Portugal, 45, got the results of her test, she was confused. She didn’t recognize any of the names listed on her father’s side.

When she questioned her mom, Portugal said she eventually confessed that she and Portugal’s father had struggled to get pregnant and sought help from a fertility doctor. According to her mother, the doctor told Portugal’s parents that they should go home, have sex, and come back two days later. Then, he would use donor sperm from a pre-med student to “help move [Portugal’s father’s] sperm along.” It was the 1970s, Portugal told VICE News, and knowledge of how artificial insemination worked hadn’t become mainstream. (The first in vitro fertilization, or IVF, baby wouldn’t be born in the United States for another 10 years.)

Believing this anonymous, pre-med donor was her biological father, Portugal started looking up the social media profiles of family relations highlighted by the 23andMe DNA test. A friend helped her use Ancestry.com to create a family tree on her paternal side and when they found the name of the person they believed to be the donor, it looked eerily familiar: It was the same name as the doctor who had signed her birth certificate—Dr. Gary Vandenberg. It was her mother’s fertility doctor. (continued)

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Katie MacBride is a freelance journalist, essayist, and co-founder/associate editor of Anxy magazine. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The Daily Beast, Vice, Playboy, and Buzzfeed, among other publications. Follow her on Twitter: @msmacb

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