SANTA ANA — A Tustin couple who spent 3 1/2 years in a landmark custody battle over a surrogate child are back in the courtroom alleging that they are victims of the UC Irvine fertility scandal.
In a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court on Thursday against the University of California and UCI's trio of fertility doctors, Crispina and Mark Calvert allege that their eggs and/or embryos were misappropriated.
The Calverts, who could not bear children on their own, contracted in 1990 with Anna Johnson, a nurse from Garden Grove, to carry their fertilized egg to term. Dr. Ricardo H. Asch was the trio's doctor, said Ronald E. Lais, the Calverts' lawyer.
But even before he was born, Christopher Calvert became the center of a nationwide debate over the rights of surrogate mothers. During her pregnancy, Johnson decided she wanted to keep the child. The trial ended in 1993 when the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Calverts custody.
"Imagine the dismay of having gone through that [legal] process and thinking the next time they want to produce a child they would do it with less fanfare," Lais said. "Now no one knows where the embryos are, and no one can seem to tell."
More than a dozen similar lawsuits have been filed against UCI and Drs. Asch, Jose P. Balmaceda and Sergio C. Stone.
The three doctors have been accused by the University of California of misappropriating eggs and embryos of at least 35 women. Some documents contend that the doctors have victimized twice as many women. All three doctors deny any intentional wrongdoing.
The suit indicates that the couple began fertility treatment with Asch on Jan. 16, 1990. They allege that at least seven eggs were removed from Crispina Calvert, and eventually two of them were fertilized and frozen for the purpose of effectuating pregnancy.
According to the lawsuit, the couple contends that the doctors took one or more of Crispina Calvert's eggs and/or embryos without their consent or knowledge "for implantation into another patient and/or for commercially advantageous and financially lucrative research and/or otherwise disposing of them in a manner permanently depriving . . . Crispina Calvert of the use of her eggs and pre-embryos to give birth to children as she specifically requested."
The couple said in the suit that they learned about the misappropriation this year from newspaper accounts of the scandal.
"They've attempted to locate the embryos, and nobody can tell them where the embryos are," Lais said. "This was the only opportunity for them to produce a sibling for their child."
The suit further alleges that the fertility team had conspired to conceal these facts from the Calverts by destroying, altering or withholding medical charts from them.