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21 More Claims Against UCI's Fertility Clinic Settled for $4.4 Million

Courts: Awards to former patients range from $650,000 to a waiver of plaintiff's court costs.

October 01, 1997|MARCIDA DODSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Settlements totaling $4.4 million have been approved in another 21 cases brought by former patients against UC Irvine's once-acclaimed fertility clinic.

The settlements, the latest in the scandal involving allegations of stolen or mishandled eggs, were approved by Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Thomas.

Individually, they range from nothing (a waiver of court costs) to $650,000--the single highest amount to date--and average more than $200,000 apiece.

Combined with 43 cases in August, the court has approved $11.55 million in settlement payments by the University of California to the former patients.

UC regents also have authorized about a dozen more settlements, but those have not yet been finalized by the court, according to authorities. About 25 more cases remain unsettled.

The court records made available Tuesday do not detail specific complaints. The cases grew out of allegations that three UCI doctors, Ricardo H. Asch, Jose P. Balmaceda and Sergio C. Stone, stole eggs that were harvested from women being treated for infertility. The fertilized eggs allegedly either were implanted in other women or sent to research labs without the patients' consent.

The largest amount in the latest round of settlements went to Loretta and Basilio Jorge of Corona. Loretta Jorge's eggs allegedly were implanted in another patient, who nine months later bore twins, a girl and a boy, now 8 years old.

The Jorges could not be reached for comment, but their attorney, Melanie Blum of Santa Ana, called the couple's case "one of the most egregious cases out there."

The Jorges live in the same city as the twins and frequently run into the other family at the doctor's office and market, Blum said. It has caused the Jorges much heartache, she said, because they had tried so long to have children.

"You have biological children out there that you wanted yourself," Blum said. "The whole reason they went to the clinic was to have biological children."

The Jorges have been married 16 years, and Loretta Jorge became pregnant last year, without any fertility treatments. Their son, Joshua, was born in February.

"She got pregnant in the middle of all this craziness," Blum said. "Having this child has helped them a lot in terms of their pain."

The settlement amounts are being determined using a formula ranking each couple's injury or grievance. The highest ranking is given to a woman who never conceived a baby but whose eggs were implanted in another woman who later bore a child. The second-highest category involves a woman whose eggs were given to another, but both she and the recipient had babies.

Other categories involve women whose eggs were used to impregnate a patient who received eggs from several donors, blurring the baby's genetic history.

The lowest priorities involve women whose eggs were given to a recipient who either did not conceive or who miscarried. There also are categories for patients whose eggs could not be accounted for or were used improperly for research.

The scandal emerged in February 1994 when a whistle-blower at the UCI Center for Reproductive Health accused the doctors of not fully reporting income and of prescribing an unapproved drug. A second complaint followed later that year, accusing the doctors of implanting eggs without the donors' consent.

The first of some 105 lawsuits by couples enrolled in the fertility programs was filed in June 1995.

The three physicians have been charged with mail fraud and tax evasion, but Asch and Balmaceda have left the country. Stone's trial began Tuesday in federal court.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Clinic Costs

The latest round of settlements to patients of the former UCI fertility clinic ranged from $5,000 to $650,000, with one couple receiving court costs only:

Range: Settlements

$600,000-650,000: 1

500,000-599,999: 2

400,000-500,000: 0

300,000-399,999: 3

200,000-299,999: 6

100,000-199,999: 1

50,000- 99,999: 3

5,000- 49,999: 4

Source: Orange County Superior Court

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