UC regents fire second doctor in embryo-swapping scandal

SAN FRANCISCO - A second doctor involved in the egg-swapping scandal at the University of California at Irvine has been fired.

The UC Board of Regents voted Thursday to fire Dr. Ricardo Asch, one of three doctors who ran the Center for Reproductive Health at UC Irvine. Of the other two, Dr. Sergio Stone was fired in March and Dr. Jose Balmaceda was an untenured professor whose contract was not renewed.

The center was closed in 1995 after patients alleged that their eggs were taken without their consent and implanted in other women, resulting in an estimated 15 babies of uncertain parentage.

Asch, who enjoyed an international reputation as an in-vitro fertilization expert, now practices in Mexico. Charges filed in his absence include accusations that he stole patients' eggs. Balmaceda, accused of insurance fraud but not egg theft, is in Chile.

Asch, Stone and Balmaceda had been placed on paid leave in May 1995. That was changed to unpaid leave in January 1996.

''It's good to finally end these matters,'' UC Irvine Chancellor Ralph Cicerone said Thursday.

UC Irvine has made a number of significant changes, including hiring an additional administrator to oversee the College of Medicine's Oversight Committee, a panel that deals with alleged misconduct. The medical school also began a training program to strengthen the skills of senior managers and department chairs to deal with financial and human resource matters.

''We certainly, I think, started the road to recovery a long time ago,'' Cicerone said.

Still, he acknowledged the process of terminating the two doctors has been slow, with delays caused partly by waiting for federal proceedings and a lengthy in-campus hearing process.

''There were a lot of reasons for the delays and I think we, all of us, have to sharpen it up,'' he said.

Asch did not appear before the board Thursday.

But Stone had tried to save his job in March, telling the board he was, ''not the despicable person described by the administration.''

Stone was not accused of stealing eggs but was convicted in 1997 of federal mail fraud in connection with clinic billing practices.

The University of California is suing all three physicians, trying to recoup some of the $17 million paid out to settle lawsuits by former clinic patients.

Stone was the first tenured faculty member fired in the campus' 35-year history; Asch is the second.


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