Who Do Fertility Doctors Secretly Impregnate Women With Their Sperm?

“When an Ancestry Search Reveals Fertility Fraud,” is the title of a February New York Times article by Jacqueline Mroz. The article reveals that in the past several years, more than 50 fertility doctors in the United States have been accused of fraud in connection with donating sperm. That’s a startlingly large number.

In Canada, the article continues, a notorious case involving one particular fertility doctor led to a class-action lawsuit involving 226 train patients (italics added) and their children. In July, in what is believed to be the first legal settlement of its kind, the families accepted the Canadian equivalent of about $10 million in compensation.

Multiple inseminations by one donor can lead to some unusual kin relations. A man interested in his own ancestry was shocked to discover that he had at least 10 previously unknown half brothers and sisters. These “relatives” were all acquired through the same donor, who turned out to be his mother’s fertility doctor.

Why do these doctors do this? They must know that this is malpractice, it’s deceitful, it could cost them dearly, it’s a betrayal of their oath, ND they are creating individuals who could possibly make claims on them in the future. It doesn’t even get them sex. Still, they persist.

The logic becomes clear when the behavior is seen in the light of evolution. These apparently stupid doctors are actually pursuing, mindlessly, a real payoff: Offspring. They are following the age-old reproductive strategy of mammal males.

Both genders in every species have a reproductive strategy—a typical way they go about the process of reproduction. Female fish, for example, release their eggs into the water—the sea, a lake, a pond, a stream, or a river. The “mother” has nothing further to do with them. A male then comes along and sprays his sperm in the vicinity. In this process, vast numbers of eggs and sperm are produced and released. It’s a numbers game. If a fertilized egg happens to land in the right spot, it might survive to become an adult. There is virtually no courtship, relationship, or parental care (aka parental investment). The young have to survive on their own as soon as they are launched.

Many bird species do have courtship, relatively long-lasting relationships, and much parental care, which is shared by both males and females. Only a few eggs are laid at a time, and though they are fertilized while they are still inside the female, they are soon laid carefully in nests, outside the mother’s body.

Female mammals have developed a unique reproductive strategy. They produce very few eggs, carry them internally for many months once they are fertilized, and then produce milk, an invention that allows them to nourish the offspring once they are born. This is the mammalian female reproductive strategy.

Humans are, of course, mammals. The ability of the human female to nourish their young with milk allows for the male reproductive strategy. Human males can choose to help with childcare but are also free to go off in search of other mating opportunities, and more eggs to fertilize, without endangering the lives of any resulting offspring. This is the typical reproductive strategy of the human male. It is, in other words, what men were designed by evolution to do.

But what hath the neocortex wrought. Artificial insemination, a technology that has made it possible for many couples and single women to have children, has also made it possible for human males to maximize their reproductive success without even engaging in sexual intercourse. The offending fertility doctors are just doing what comes naturally, albeit in a most unnatural way.

This phenomenon brings us back to what has been a common theme in our blog: How contemporary social organizations, modes of production, and technologies change the meaning and consequences of natural human behaviors. Our behavioral repertoire is riddled with anachronisms. We are motivated by ancient urges and emotions that are funneled through the creations of our big brains. Unintended consequences, like fertility doctors run amok, seem to be inevitable. An awful lot of what humans do makes sense only in the light of evolution.

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