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Trial scheduled for Idaho Falls doctor who artificially impregnated patient with his own semen

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IDAHO FALLS — Last year, Dr. Gerald E. Mortimer admitted to using his own sperm to inseminate several of his patients. This year, one of the women he inseminated and a biological daughter born as a result of his actions are taking their case against him to trial, according to court documents.

Kelli Rowlette, Mortimer’s biological daughter, filed the initial case in 2018 alleging medical negligence, failure to obtain informed consent, fraud, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, as well as several other causes of action.

In a video deposition recorded in 2018, Sally Ashby, Rowlette’s mother and Mortimer’s former patient, explained “how violated she felt” by Mortimer, and that after finding out about Mortimer’s actions, she was “in a state of shock for quite a while.”

In 1980, when the incident took place, Ashby and her then-husband, Howard Fowler, turned to Mortimer for fertility treatment when they couldn’t conceive naturally. Eventually, the couple decided to try artificial insemination. Fowler and an anonymous donor both provided semen samples for the procedure. Unbeknownst to them, however, Mortimer used his own semen to inseminate Ashby instead, according to Mortimer’s testimony in court documents.

In 1981, Ashby gave birth to Rowlette, and no one found about Mortimer’s actions for decades. In fact, it wasn’t until Rowlette, by then in her 30s, submitted a DNA sample to Ancestry.com that any suspicion was raised. The DNA sample Rowlette submitted identified Mortimer as a parent-child match.

“I thought the test was incomplete or wrong,” Rowlette stated in her deposition. “I thought it was impossible.”

Rowlette told Ashby about the results, and they deduced that Mortimer must have used his own sperm for the procedure. When Ashby realized what happened, she felt like “she had been raped by her doctor,” according to court documents. Rowlette, along with Ashby and Fowler, filed suit.

After originally denying all accusations of wrongdoing, Mortimer eventually admitted to using his own sperm to inseminate multiple patients, including Rowlette’s mother, Sally Ashby.

“I was ashamed,” Mortimer said in a 2018 deposition. “I regret the fact that I was a sperm donor; that I did those things in the past. I guess I feel bad about that. I wish I hadn’t done it.”

RELATED | Former Idaho Falls doctor admits to using own sperm to inseminate multiple patients

Regardless of his stated remorse, Mortimer refused to take a paternity test confirming his biological link with Rowlette until court ordered to do so. His attorneys also filed a motion for summary judgment, admitting his role in the insemination, but denying that it violated the laws Rowlette and Ashby claimed it did. However, the court dismissed Mortimer’s motion in February 2020.

Now in its third year, the case is finally set for trial, and the stakes are higher than ever. In the months preceding trial, the court granted two motions in Rowlette’s favor, both of which stand to benefit her.

READ: Dr. Gerald Mortimer admits to inseminating patients in court docs

First, Rowlette filed a motion to amend her complaint in order to allow the jury to consider punitive damages. Judge Nye, in his order responding to the motion, wrote, “Here there is substantial evidence to support submitting the issue of punitive damages to the jury.”

Dr. Parsons, an expert hired by Rowlette, concluded that Mortimer behaved outside of his duty to Ashby by “knowingly and purposefully using his own semen to artificially inseminate Ms. Ashby without her or Mr. Fowler’s knowledge or consent in order to obtain a conception with his own biologic child.” The court found Parsons’ conclusions, in addition to Rowlette’s additional arguments, sufficient to allow the jury to consider punitive damages.

Second, the court granted Rowlette’s motion for summary judgment regarding her argument that Mortimer, as Ashby’s doctor, breached his duty of care by using his own sperm to inseminate his patient, according to court documents. That means that in the upcoming trial, Rowlette will not have to present evidence on that point.

With nearly all pre-trial procedures exhausted, the two parties will face each other in the courtroom unless an agreement is settled upon within the next several months. The trial begins May 17, 2021.

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