Doctor in fertility case dies at age 80; North Little Rock family’s suit placed on pause

A gavel and the scales of justice are shown in this photo.

The Central Arkansas obstetrician-gynecologist accused of using his own sperm for a 1978 fertility procedure, without the family's knowledge, has died, according to court records.

Dr. Gary Phillip Wood of Maumelle is the subject of a 2019 civil lawsuit filed by a North Little Rock family. The family alleged that Wood is the father of a child born after fertility treatments at the physician's office that were supposed to produce the couple's own biological child.

Wood denied the allegations in court filings. A hearing in Pulaski County Circuit Court had been set for Friday.

A judge's order on April 20, however, says that Wood died April 4, and that the case has been paused until a representative is appointed for his estate.

An attorney listed for Wood didn't immediately return an emailed request for comment.

Darryl Baker, an attorney from the Baker Schulze & Murphy law firm representing the North Little Rock family, said his clients will continue to pursue the case, adding that they've had "too much pain to let it go completely."

"However, we want to give Dr. Wood's family a chance to grieve and open an estate on their own before we move forward," he wrote in an email. "If they do not, we will ask the court to appoint an administrator."

Court records and an obituary don't indicate how Wood died. He was 80.

The man who said Wood was his father, Matthew Smith, 42, told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in a previous interview that he'd become interested in his heritage through family discussions and a genealogy website.

The site linked Smith to the doctor, whom Smith wrote to after a paternity test showed he was not related to the man who raised him. He asked Wood to take a DNA test, emails included in court documents show.

Wood initially said no, writing that the behavior alleged "would be unethical." He also said he'd had a vasectomy after his last child was born in 1970.

The North Little Rock family then filed a lawsuit alleging negligence and deceit. Attorneys wrote in an initial complaint that family members suffered "severe emotional distress" and sought damages and attorney's fees.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ordered Wood to take a DNA test on May 13 last year. That test showed a 99.9% "probability of paternity," according to a laboratory report filed with court documents.

The Arkansas case is among numerous alleged "fertility-fraud" claims that have popped up across the country in recent years, thanks in part to growing access to consumer-friendly genetic testing.

As a result of such cases, Texas and Indiana introduced new state laws in 2019 prohibiting the use of another person's genetic material during insemination procedures without a family's explicit permission.