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University of California settles missing embryo lawsuits

21 September 2009
Appeared in BioNews 526

The University of California, Irvine, has brought closer the end of litigation over egg thefts committed in the late 1980s with a further dozen cases settled at a cost of £2.6 million. The payouts are the latest made in connection with 137 distinct cases in which eggs or embryos disappeared from the University's Centre for Reproductive Health and were then distributed to other women, used for research or lost. The total value of settlements made so far in connection with the scandal is now approaching £15 million.

The scandal was first uncovered in 1995 by a report in the Orange County Register but it was alleged by whistle-blowers that early-warnings had been ignored and that problems had been swept under the carpet. The attorney representing the couples in the litigation, Dan Hodes, claimed that many of the couples still felt that the crimes committed against them had not been properly punished and that 'the individual doctors who the evidence suggested were most at fault got off without any recrimination at all'.

Amongst the doctors implicated two were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of mail fraud and tax evasion. Doctors Ricardo Asch and Jose Balmaceda, however, fled the country, leaving UC Irvine to deal with more than a decade of backlash. Auditors KPMG found that over a million dollars worth of income at the clinic had not been reported. Three remaining cases are yet to be settled, but in a statement to the Associated Press the University claimed that the settlements are part of the process by which it is 'honouring its commitment to treat each claim fairly and on its merits.'

UC Irvine settles lawsuits of stolen eggs, embryos
Associated Press |  11 September 2009
UCI settles a dozen fertility suits
LA Times |  11 September 2009
UCI settles more lawsuits over stolen eggs, embryos
OC Register |  10 September 2009
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