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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.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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
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