Sunday, September 24, 2023
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Plaintiffs in Sperm Bank Debacle May Use Aliases

CHICAGO (CN) - Fifty men who claim Northwestern Memorial Hospital's loss of their frozen sperm has cost them any chance of ever having children may sue under fictitious names, an Illinois appellate court ruled.

John Does 1-50 and many Jane Does sued Northwestern Memorial Hospital in 2013, after a cryogenic tank at the hospital holding their frozen sperm failed. All the John Does say they have medical conditions that threaten their fertility.

In a statement on the website of the Corboy & Demetrio law firm, the plaintiffs' attorney Matthew Jenkins said: "Three of the plaintiffs were minors at the time, the youngest was just 14 years old with a rare form of cancer. Other plaintiffs include a 33-year-old man who has leukemia and was told that his radical chemotherapy treatments would likely make him infertile; a 26-year-old man who suffers from an illness that could render him infertile; and a 48-year-old man who had his sperm preserved because he too suffers from an illness that could render him infertile."

The Illinois Appellate 1st District Court affirmed Wednesday that plaintiffs may file their complaints against the hospital using fictitious names, given the highly personal nature of the litigation, even though they did not first give notice to defendants of their intent.

"If plaintiffs' identities are disclosed here, not only will the public know the intimate details of plaintiffs' reproductive health and the treatment they are undergoing for medical conditions such as cancer, they will know that plaintiffs can no longer have biological children, that any hope plaintiffs had of having a biological child has been shattered," Judge Stuart Palmer said, writing for the three-justice panel.

The issue is not merely one of medical privacy, the court said.

"Here, those individuals' most basic human right, to have a biological child, has been irrevocably destroyed through no fault of their own. We can imagine few circumstances more devastating, more highly personal and more entitled to privacy," Palmer said.

Plaintiffs' decisions to store their reproductive tissue were never intended to be subject to public scrutiny, the 18-page opinion stated.

"Publicizing their identities along with the implicit details described above would only victimize them again," Palmer said.

In addition, because the motions were filed before plaintiffs had filed their related complaints initiating their actions against Northwestern, plaintiffs did not err in not notifying defendants, who could not be party to a as-yet-nonexistent action.

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