Page URL:

Experts caution on implications of 'lost embryos' lawsuit

26 November 2018
Appeared in BioNews 977

Experts have strongly criticised a claim that embryos lost during a storage tank failure at a fertility clinic were 'people'. 

In the aftermath of the embryo storage tank failure at University Hospital Ahuja Medical Centre, Ohio (see BioNews 961), one of the affected couples, Wendy and Rick Penniman, announced that they were suing the clinic. The couple claims that loss of the embryos amounts to 'wrongful death'. Experts have strongly criticised the lawsuit.

'IVF would be significantly compromised. If a clinician were to freeze embryos, and some do not survive the process, how would that be dealt with? Would that be manslaughter? One needs to view this suit in that context,' said Eli Adashi, professor of medical science at Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. 

'The implications are of national interest. They go beyond the pro-life/pro-choice debate and reach into the very conduct of IVF and other fertility promotion techniques.'

In addition to the potential implications for IVF treatments, considering embryos as persons could be used to argue against abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.

Professor Adashi, along with co-authors Glenn Cohen, professor of law and bioethics at Harvard University and Dov Fox, professor of law policy and bioethics at University of San Diego, published their analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The authors called for legislation to deal appropriately with cases where embryos are lost due to a technical fault or human error.

The storage tank at the clinic contained at least 4000 frozen eggs and embryos, with the malfunction affecting 950 patients. Other patients affected by the storage failure have initiated a class-action lawsuit suing the company on the grounds of loss of property and medical costs. Professor Adashi notes that these grounds do not reflect the emotional impact associated with fertility treatment.

The authors argue that better precautions need to be put in place to deal with potential future incidents, such as regulation of the storage facilities by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Experts weigh in on lost embryos lawsuit
Futurity |  20 November 2018
Losing Embryos, Finding Justice: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Personhood
Annals of Internal Medicine |  20 November 2018
Researchers offer perspective on legal, ethical implications of lost eggs and embryos
Brown University |  19 November 2018
2 September 2019 - by Suzi Denton 
In his new book, Professor Dov Fox shines a light on the harms that are done to fertility patients, and the lack of protection which the law in the USA affords them...
7 May 2019 - by Suzi Denton 
An appeal court in Cleveland, Ohio, has ruled that a couple's embryos lost in a freezer-failure incident last year were not 'living persons', and should not therefore have been treated as patients rather than property...
8 April 2019 - by Bernie Owusu-Yaw 
The New York attorney general, Letitia James, has filed a lawsuit against a stem cell clinic and the sole doctor working there, for allegedly mis-selling unproven treatments to vulnerable patients...
18 March 2019 - by Georgia Everett 
In the first case of its kind, a lawyer will represent an aborted embryo in an Alabama court, potentially setting a precedent that could affect fertility treatments such as IVF...
28 January 2019 - by Georgia Everett 
Eight new lawsuits have been filed this week following the loss of 4000 eggs and embryos when a storage tank in a fertility clinic malfunctioned...
6 August 2018 - by Jen Willows 
An Ohio couple are continuing their legal fight to have their lost embryos declared to have the same legal status as people...
19 March 2018 - by Jen Willows 
A second US fertility clinic has reported a malfunction of a tank used to store frozen eggs and embryos...
12 March 2018 - by Lone Hørlyck 
A temperature fluctuation in a storage bank has compromised at least 2100 frozen eggs and embryos in a fertility clinic in Cleveland Ohio...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.