Reproductive clinic, doctors ran amok, ex-employees claim

  Jonathan T. Lovitt ; Richard Price


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1995)


  SACRAMENTO - Former employees of an Orange County fertility clinic

  Wednesday told of a medical chamber of horrors - cash-hungry doctors using

  stolen embryos, unapproved drugs and dangerous shortcuts to impregnate

  post-menopausal women.


  Marilyn Killane and Debra Krahel told a state Senate committee the practices at

  the now-closed Center for Reproductive Health - affiliated with the University of

  California-Irvine - dated to at least 1992.


  "It's biomedical rape that's gone on," said Krahel, who was the center's senior

  associate director until placed on administrative leave last July for registering her



  Added Killane, center director until she also was put on leave in September, "I've

  worked in the medical field for 25 years, and I've never seen a place like this."


  They joined with a third whistle-blower to alert the university. Initially punished,

  they've since drawn praise from the school, which has paid them $918,500.


  The clinic was shut down in May amid investigations by police and the National

  Institutes for Health.


  The university has filed suit against the clinic's three supervising partners -

  physicians Ricardo Asch, Jose Balmaceda and Sergio Stone. No criminal charges

  have been filed.


  The suit contends they failed to account for money, conducted unauthorized

  research and gave patients' eggs to others without permission. At least three

  babies have been born from stolen embryos, authorities believe.


  The doctors have denied wrongdoing. Asch declined to testify. That drew a sharp

  rebuke from another witness, John Challender. "I'm not surprised," he said of

  Asch. "He's a monster. He's despicable."


  Challender's wife, Debbie, has been told 10 of her 46 eggs harvested by Asch

  went to other patients. One gave birth to a boy in 1992.


  Since 1990, hundreds of women have used the center, in part because of Asch's

  international reputation as the developer of a successful fertility technique in

  which a woman's eggs are fertilized with her husband's sperm in a test tube, then

  replaced in her body.


  But according to Killane and Krahel, as well as university officials who

  investigated, the doctors found a profitable prey in post-menopausal women

  desperate because they no longer are fertile.


  Highlights of the testimony of former clinic employees:


  -- Eggs harvested from younger women were fertilized and transferred to

  post-menopausal patients without permission. In some cases, consent forms were



  -- To stimulate the harvest of eggs, doctors used an Argentinian drug - HMG

  Massone - not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Such

  stimulants might cause cancer, experts said.


  -- Asch was paid in cash by the center for the drug, and each use was falsely

  billed to the university as an "X-ray."


  Chronicling a dramatic tale of suspicion, Krahel said the key moment - and the

  reason she was punished - came when she called a patient to see if she had

  consented to donating her eggs.


  The patient had not consented, in part because doctors had harvested only 14

  eggs, barely enough for herself.


  At least one of her eggs was fertilized and implanted in another woman, who

  gave birth to a boy, Krahel said. So the patient - who never has given birth to a

  baby - is the biological parent of a child.


  A lawyer testifying for an unnamed couple said their eggs somehow wound up in

  a Wisconsin zoology lab for testing.


  Killane said the doctors were driven by money. Killane said financial records

  were "cooked" to disguise the amounts involved.


  The doctors reported $5 million income between September 1991 and January

  1995, according to the university.