Alexander and Daphna Cardinale conceived their second child using IVF and gave birth to a daughter in September 2019. Genetic testing revealed that the newborn was unrelated to either parent. They subsequently discovered that their embryo was transferred to an unrelated woman who gave birth to the Cardinale's baby.
'Instead of breastfeeding my own child, I breastfed and bonded with a child I was later forced to give away', Daphna said in an interview released through her lawyer. She described how after four months of caring for another couple's child, they formally exchanged the babies. 'She was four months old', Daphna continued. 'We missed the whole newborn phase with her, we missed the whole pregnancy. I was losing a baby at the same time that I was getting a baby.'
After Daphna gave birth, Alexander knew that something wasn't right as the baby had much darker skin and hair. After two months the couple decided to order a DNA test, which confirmed their fears.
The IVF clinic helped the Cardinales find the couple who had carried their embryo and had given birth to their biological daughter. Four months after giving birth, the couples agreed to go through the legal process of formally exchanging the babies.
The Cardinale's elder daughter, who was five years old at the time, was 'devastated' to lose the person she thought was her sister.
On 8 November, the Cardinales filed a lawsuit against the IVF clinic, the California Centre for Reproductive Health and its owner, Dr Eliran Mor, of fraud, medical malpractice and negligence.
Dr Mor outsourced handling of the embryo to In Vitrotech Labs, an embryology lab also owned by Dr Mor. The complaint alleges that Mor's clinic had a 'sordid history of allegedly mixing up, mislabeling, and/or outright losing clients' genetic material.'
Although rare, cases like these are not unprecedented. In 2019, a couple from New York gave birth to two boys of Asian descent after receiving fertility treatment. Genetic testing confirmed that the boys were unrelated to either parent or each other and custody was granted to the biological parents.
Speaking to the Independent, embryologist Professor Joyce Harper at University College London said that cases like these come down to 'human error'. 'If there is a mix-up, it's because protocols haven't been followed'.
Clinics are expected to self-regulate in the USA, but couples like the Cardinales are calling for greater regulation.
In the UK, clinics are required to adhere to 'double witnessing' procedures, whereby each step of IVF is observed and checked by at least two people. Since double witnessing was introduced into law, there have been no reports of IVF mix-ups in the UK.