Former patients of Dr. Ricardo H. Asch reacted with anger and worry this week to UC Irvine's lawsuit against the fertility specialist, some charging that he is the victim of professional jealousy and interoffice differences.
"I think he is just caught in the middle of the internal politics at UCI," said Karen Redding, a 42-year-old Laguna Beach psychotherapist who began seeing Asch in 1992 and, with his help, gave birth to her now 1-year-old son, Adam. "I'm sure any reasonable [person] would ask why? What would the motive be for a man who has everything--fame, respect, reputation--to do something like this?"
But some patients are worried, according to Ellen Winters Miller, a licensed marriage and family counselor who works with infertile couples. Miller said she received calls this week from patients of Asch "concerned about whether or not they're truly the biological parents of their kids."
A few, she said, even are considering retrieving their embryos from Asch's Center for Reproductive Health, a small clinic tucked in a corner of a building at the UCI Medical Center in Orange.
"They are worried about their embryos that are still at the clinic and wonder how they can access them and move them to another physician," Miller said.
That reaction is understandable, Miller said, considering the allegation that their personal infertility physician has transplanted eggs without donors' consent.
"It's only natural that you are concerned, because you are totally trusting the medical team to be using your husband's sperm, to be using your eggs," Miller said. "You feel that if these allegations are true, there has been a real violation of trust."
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, UCI officials also accused Asch and his colleagues, physicians Jose Balmaceda and Sergio Stone, of conducting human subject research without permission, prescribing a fertility drug not approved by the government and hiding cash payments from university administrators.
Former patient Andrea Feiner, 43, of Anaheim dismissed those accusations as outlandish.
"There's always turmoil going on somewhere in large organizations, and people have their differences, and this is probably what happened in Dr. Asch's case," she said. Feiner has launched a support group made up of former patients to stand behind the embattled doctor.
Julie Thorton of San Juan Capistrano said she believes Asch has been "set up" by those envious of his international fame in the specialty.
"I think someone just wants to bring him down," said Thorton, who first went to Asch's clinic in 1987. With the help of in-vitro fertilization, Thorton gave birth to her now 6-year-old son, Shane.
Former patient Helena Melmet said she was "appalled" by the latest allegations leveled against Asch.
"He has the ability to give the gift to people that no one else could give, and when you've got someone in such a high position . . . people are envious," Melmet said. "I think people are just jumping on the bandwagon to attack this man who has done so much for so many people."