It’s a story first seen in The New York Times. ABC’s Juju Chang spoke with two of the half-siblings.
David Berry spent 37 years thinking he was Italian and Irish until he took a DNA test.
“There was no Italian. There was, there was no Irish, none of the things I was led to believe,” Berry said.
It was the shock of a lifetime. Her father was not her biological father. Berry became a DNA sleuth, unraveling his biological history. He discovered that he and Morgan Helquist, 36, were half-siblings.
“I got this message and it said, I think we’re related,” Helquist said. “I grabbed his face, I just looked and I was like, ‘Why is your face on my face?’ Like, I just couldn’t comprehend, it was the craziest experience I’ve ever had.”
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But they kept finding more and more half-siblings.
“Then there were five of us and we were all the same age. And six, then seven, and I started to think to myself, well, if there’s seven, there could be 20 and if there’s there’s 20, there could be 100. And I started to feel terrified,” Helquist said.
The half-siblings had more than DNA in common. Berry and Helquist said their mothers used artificial insemination, using the same fertility doctor, Morris Wortman, in Rochester, New York. A biological daughter Wortman raised has agreed to take a DNA test to try to fill in the missing piece of the puzzle.
The result: Berry said she matched him, Helquist and all the siblings.
“I’m the product of something that should never have happened with at least one unconscionable breach of ethics. He’s someone I can’t escape because his DNA is in me, his DNA is in my son. I struggle with that. the first time I held my son, that man was in the room with me,” Berry said.
For Helquist, this story takes a darker turn. During the previous decade, Wortman was also her gynecologist.
When asked how she told her mother, Helquist replied, “When we found out, there was no need to tell her. I was screaming and sobbing my head off.”
Helquist filed a lawsuit against Wortman in September, alleging, among other things, that he committed medical malpractice by treating her when he likely knew he was her biological father. Wortman’s team denied the charges.
“He knew who he was all the time, and I didn’t. He took that choice away from me,” Helquist said.
Berry and Helquist’s mothers said Wortman told them he was using the sperm of an unnamed medical student. Berry’s mother is still in shock at the news.
“He had my permission to use a donor, specifically a medical student. He didn’t have my permission to use his own sperm for donation,” Karen Berry said.
Sonia Suter, a professor at George Washington University School of Law, weighed in on the situation.
“It looks like a sexual assault. The problem is that it does not meet the definitions of sexual assault or assault in many ways and therefore there was no criminal offense because no law does not covered that particular act,” Suter said. .
Seven states specifically penalize doctors for fertility fraud. Other states, like New York, only have pending laws. For now, Helquist is the only one of the half-siblings who can have a legal cause of action.
“I don’t have a case of fertility fraud. I have a case because he touched my body without my consent,” Helquist said.
Helquist said despite the pain, there is a silver lining.
“David and my siblings are, it’s not even bittersweet, it’s that they’re the shiny glue that keeps me together through it all,” Helquist said.