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US couple launch lawsuit after ancestry test reveals sperm mix-up

12 August 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1010

A couple in Ohio is suing a fertility clinic and associated organisations after a genetic test given as a Christmas present revealed a sperm mix-up in their IVF treatment.

Using a DNA kit, Joseph Cartellone discovered that he was not biologically related to his daughter, who had been conceived following IVF treatment at the Christ Hospital and the Greater Cincinnati Institute for Reproductive Health in 1994. The family is now suing for unspecified damages.

'It's hard to explain the shock and agony when you find out that someone you love and care for - your own daughter - is not genetically related to you,' Joseph Cartellone said at a Washington DC news conference. 'There's a mix of anger, pain and confusion that comes along with having to accept this and having to break the news to our family.'

Joseph and Jennifer Cartellone started IVF treatment at the Christ Hospital in 1993. The following February, Jennifer had three embryos transferred to her uterus, which she and her husband believed were made from her eggs and his sperm. She subsequently became pregnant with their daughter Rebecca.

However, last Christmas, Rebecca bought the family DNA kits from Ancestry.com to explore their heritage and the results, later confirmed by a paternity test, showed that father and daughter were not biologically related. The Cartellones still do not know the identity of Rebecca's biological father, but a private investigation by the family has traced him back to a handful of men, including a doctor working at the hospital at the time.

Joseph Cartellone said that his wife now 'has to deal with the fact that this clinic… fertilised her eggs with a complete stranger's sperm and placed them in her body' and in an interview with Good Morning America said that his daughter is 'experiencing significant emotional stress and confusion concerning her own identity'.

A lawsuit has been brought against the Cincinnati Institute for Reproductive Health, the associated The Christ Hospital, and Ovation Fertility, and includes counts of breach of contract, battery and negligence. The Cartellones are also seeking damages for facilities to reveal who fathered Rebecca and how the alleged mishap occurred; they also want to know if Joseph Cartellone's sperm was used by another of the clinic's clients.

'These clinics need to be held accountable and they need to suffer real consequences for their actions,' said Joseph Cartellone. 'We're willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that this doesn't happen again to anyone else.'

The current case highlights the insufficient regulation of fertility clinics in the USA, whereby  'error reporting is essentially voluntary, and tragic cases of lost, destroyed or otherwise improperly handled embryos appear to be on the rise' according to a recent report by law firm Peiffer Wolf Carr and Kane. The firm, which is representing the Cartellones, said that 'nail salons are subject to far tighter state and federal controls than US fertility clinics'.

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