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Couple discover embryos were lost by clinic 20 years ago

26 April 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1092

A couple is pursuing legal action against a hospital after learning that their embryos had been lost by the clinic.

Dr Elaine Meyer, and Dr Barry Prizant underwent IVF in 1995 at Women & Infants Hospital, in Rhode Island. They had a successful pregnancy and nine further embryos were stored for future use. Four years later the couple returned to the clinic to try to conceive a second baby. Only three embryos survived the thawing process and were transferred, but the procedure was unsuccessful and they were told that there were no more embryos left. Subsequently, in 2017 they were shocked to receive a letter from the hospital requesting a $500 payment to 'continue storing their embryos.'

'As a woman who had suffered miscarriages and infertility, all the powerful feelings of sadness, shame and grief came crashing back and the knot in my stomach was real.' said Dr Meyer to the New York Times.

After receiving the letter, the couple learned that their embryos had disappeared sometime before they returned to the clinic in 2000 and had been found only ten years later in a glass vial at the bottom of the tank. Unfortunately, the vial had a crack in it, likely rendering the embryos unviable.

They also learned that the clinic knew they were missing but no one ever tried to find the embryos or tried to contact them when they were found years later. When the clinic implemented a new storage fee policy in 2017, the couple received the bill.

'These are not two cans of peaches on the shelf at a Stop & Shop,' said Professor David Keefe, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at New York University Langone Fertility Centre, speaking of the embryos. 'They are much more like two kids on a playground. When you're responsible for them and if they're lost, you notify the people who care about them the most and tell them all you can.'

Initially, the couple, now in their 60s, tried to liaise with the hospital in the hope of finding something meaningful from the careless treatment of their embryos, such as providing a learning opportunity to help train fertility staff to interact more informatively with the patients. After months of silence, they were told by the hospital's director of risk management that the incident had 'happened a long time ago', leaving Dr Meyer feeling it was ultimately implied she should 'get over it'. She told the New York Times she was 'horrified', as she considered these embryos discovered in the bottom of the tank represented 'her and her husband's children'.

The couple decided to file a lawsuit to seek a jury trial and punitive, compensatory, consequential damages. 'I would not be true to myself if I let this be swept under the rug.' explained Dr Meyer. 'It is our job as parents to give our children, and in this case embryos, every opportunity for life and for dignity. We were denied our right to fulfil our role as parents.'

Dr Meyer and Dr Prizant are now in the process of repossessing their embryos and burying them, to allow their embryos 'to finally have some peace and rest' and to 'find some peace and rest ourselves'.

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A baby girl has been born from a record-breaking 27-year-old frozen embryo...
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2 December 2019 - by Lone Hørlyck 
New Jersey looks set to become the first US state to require licensing and inspection of facilities that store embryos being used for fertility treatment...
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