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IVF mix-ups in Italian fertility clinics

8 September 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 275

An Italian newspaper has reported that a hospital in Turin, Italy, gave two women undergoing fertility treatment the morning-after pill half an hour after artificial insemination took place, following a suspected sperm mix-up. One of the couples involved noticed that the sperm sample being used had the wrong man's name on it, and alerted the clinician performing the procedure. It transpired that both women had been inseminated with the wrong man's sperm. Now, each couple will have to wait a few days to find out whether they have conceived or not.

According to the newspaper report, prosecutors in Turin are looking into the case, following claims that a secretary at the clinic had been 'helping out' on the day in question. But fertility experts have said that there is no scandal, arguing that human error is inevitable. Carlo Flamigni, president of the Italian Society for Fertility and Sterility, told the newspaper that 'when a technique has been perfected and becomes routine, you must only expect that attention levels drop. It's the risk of our daily work, not just for doctors, but for every other profession'.

The news comes only a short time after reports that another Italian couple is seeking compensation for a mistake that occurred at another fertility clinic, four years ago. A white couple undergoing fertility treatment at a clinic in Modena, Italy, gave birth to twins with dark skin following a mistake in the procedure. According to reports, the eggs and sperm of two of three couples that received fertility treatment on the same day were mistakenly switched. Genetic tests have already confirmed that the biological father of the twins, who were born four years ago, is a North African man, and not the twins' social father.

Annibale Volpe, director of the clinic where the mistake occurred, tried to explain how this might have happened. 'Clearly a dirty pipette which had already been used was not thrown away', she said, adding 'we used it a second time and there must have been a few sperm left behind by the previous couple'. The clinic has now opened an internal inquiry.

The reports have fueled the debate about Italy's restrictive new fertility laws. While they have been criticised, since they were passed at the end of last year, for being too strict, Italian Health Minister Girolama Sirchia said that the mistakes showed that tight regulation of fertility treatments is necessary. 'These errors show that anything can happen if you do not have rules', he said.

A similar case happened in the UK 18 months ago, when a white couple gave birth to mixed-race twins following an error at a fertility clinic in Leeds. Prior to that case, other incidents had been reported in the US and the Netherlands.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Italian IVF blunder fuels fertility law row
The Guardian |  7 September 2004
Turin: test tubes mixed up, woman aborts, inquiry underway
AGI Online |  7 September 2004
When changing the baby ends in court
Sydney Morning Herald |  8 September 2004
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