At the very top of the Mormon Church’s hierarchy is the First Presidency — three powerful modern-day apostles who mete out, after prayerful consideration, lower-ranking jobs (Bishop, Mission President, Temple President, and so on). This triumvirate claims the gift of discernment, a God-given talent that includes knowing “the true character of people.” There’s simply no fooling these “prophets, seers, and revelators.”
Or is there?
Inevitably, I suppose, there have been more than a few criminals who ascended to leadership positions in the Mormon Church, but one of the most recently unearthed failures of the Three Mormon Poohbahs concerns a fertility doctor who lied to his patients in a particularly skeevy way.
Around 1979, Sally Ashby and her then-husband Howard Fowler decided to seek medical assistance when they couldn’t conceive a child. Their fertility doctor, Gerald E. Mortimer (with his wife, above), told them that Fowler had a low sperm count and that Ashby’s uterus was tipped towards her spine. He proposed artificial insemination, saying he would use a mix of Fowler’s sperm and that of an anonymous donor. The couple were asked to choose a few desired characteristics of the donor and specified that they wanted someone who resembled Fowler in some ways — over six feet tall, brown hair, blue eyes, and college-educated. Mortimer soon told them that he had found a match, and Sally Ashby became pregnant through artificial insemination in the summer of 1980.
But unbeknownst to his clients, Mortimer had allegedly substituted his own sperm. When he delivered the baby, he was delivering his own daughter.
The child — now Kelli Rowlette, 36 — found out the truth just last year through a DNA test via Ancestry.com.
It’s still unclear whether Mortimer has “treated” other patients the same way he did the Fowlers.
Rowlette, Ashby, and Fowler have now filed a lawsuit against Mortimer that alleges medical negligence, failure to obtain informed consent, fraud, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and breach of contract.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported the other day that Mortimer was president of a Mormon Church temple. I discovered that that would make him at least the second Mormon fertility doctor who engaged in nasty business of this kind.
At least seven instances were identified in which Jacobson was the biological father of the patients’ children [without the patients having been informed or having consented], including one patient who was supposed to have been inseminated with sperm provided by her husband. DNA tests linked Jacobson to at least 15 such children, and it has been suspected that he fathered as many as 75 children by impregnating patients with his own sperm.
He also lost his medical license, something that should perhaps have happened years earlier, when he claimed to have impregnated a male baboon. I wish I was making that up.
Coincidentally, Jacobson, for a while, held a position of authority in the Mormon Church. I wonder what that says about the Church leaders’ vaunted “gift of discernment.”
P.S.: I laughed out loud at some unintentionally funny footage from Seeds of Deception, a gloriously hamfisted TV movie about the Cecil Jacobson case. Do yourself a favor and watch the scene from 33:04 to 33:32, in which a couple gets a second opinion to learn whether the wife is really pregnant.
It’s even better than the SNL skit about the Jacobson case, starring John Goodman.