Crime and Justice

Fertility doctor faces 2nd lawsuit alleging he used his sperm to inseminate woman

The ad placed by the daughter of Cheryl and Peter Rousseau, the couple who filed a federal lawsuit in Burlington against Dr. John Boyd Coates III.

A second woman is bringing a lawsuit against a now-retired Vermont fertility doctor, accusing him of using his own sperm to impregnate her despite telling her that the donor was an unnamed medical student who resembled her husband.

Shirley Brown filed her lawsuit against John Boyd Coates III in federal court in Vermont, making similar allegations as contained in an earlier lawsuit brought in 2018 by another woman. That case remains pending.

The latest lawsuit alleges that Coates’ action in using his own genetic material to inseminate Brown remained secret until November 2020. That’s when, according to the filing, Brown’s daughter, now 42, used DNA testing to learn more information about her biological father.

In conducting that research using the results of DNA testing, the lawsuit stated, Brown’s daughter determined that Coates was her genetic father. 

The lawsuit accuses Coates of medical negligence, failing to obtain informed consent, fraud, battery, negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. The lawsuit, which terms Coates’ actions as “outrageous,” seeks unspecified damages of more than $75,000.

“Had the plaintiff known that Defendant Dr. Coates would use his own genetic material to insert into Plaintiff Shirley Brown and to inseminate Plaintiff Shirley Brown,” the lawsuit stated, “she would not have agreed to the Procedure.”

According to the filing, Brown’s procedure took place in May 1978 at Central Vermont Hospital, which is now called Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin.

Coates informed Brown that he would obtain the sperm from an unnamed medical student who resembled her husband, according to the lawsuit.

“However,” the filing stated, “instead of inserting the genetic material pursuant to the Representation, Defendant Dr. Coates inserted his own genetic material into Plaintiff Shirley Brown so as to impregnate her with his own genetic material and thereby be the biological father of her child.”

Peter Joslin, Coates’ attorney, and Gary Burt, the lawyer for Brown, both could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The earlier lawsuit also accuses Coates of fraud — using his own sperm when Cheryl Rousseau went to him for fertility treatments more than 40 years ago, and then not telling her and her husband what he did.

The Rousseaus’ daughter in 2018 used Ancestry.com and 23andme.com to find out information about her biological father. The results from those sites traced back to Coates as the sperm donor, rather than a medical student, as Coates had originally told the Rousseaus.

In that case, according to court filings, Coates had initially denied using his own sperm but later admitted to using his own genetic material to impregnate Cheryl Rosseau. 

Jerry O’Neill, a Burlington attorney who is representing the Rousseaus, is seeking to include information related to the latest claims into his case to show a pattern of Coates’ conduct and that his actions were not the result of a singular event or mistake.

Coates’ attorney is fighting the bid to have that information brought into the Rousseaus’ case.

“Plaintiffs would have one believe that the only explanation is that Defendant is an evil person intent on spreading his genetic material as far and as wide as possible,” Joslin, an attorney for Coates, wrote in a filing seeking to keep evidence related to the second case out of the trial for first one.

However, the filing added, “the more plausible presumption would be that, in both cases, the Defendant was simply motivated by a lack of other available genetic specimens at the time at which the procedures were performed.”    

The trial in the first lawsuit will only take up the issue of damages as a result of Coates admitting to using his own sperm to impregnate Cheryl Rosseau.

The new information leading to the second lawsuit initially came to light as a result of a newspaper ad taken out this summer by the daughter, now in her 40s, of Cheryl and Peter Rousseau.

“In Search of DNA Brothers and Sisters,” the ad from the Valley Reporter in Waitsfield reads in bold letters. The ad sought out people who were born through Coates’ offices between 1976 and 2009, which included locations in Berlin and Burlington. 

O’Neill, the Rousseaus’ attorney, said Thursday that no date has been set for a trial in the case.

He did say the situation does raise the issue of how many children were born in instances where Coates used his own sperm to impregnate a patient.

“The question is how many others are out there. No one knows,” he said. 
In one case dating back to the early 1990s, a fertility specialist from Virginia was believed to have fathered as many as 70 children.

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Alan J. Keays

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