Italian Health Minister Renato Balduzzi has ordered an investigation of a fertility clinic at the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome after a mechanical failure led to the destruction of 94 frozen embryos, 130 eggs, and five sperm samples.
The temperature in a freezer housing the embryos reportedly rose from minus 196 degrees Celsius to plus 20 degrees Celsius after nitrogen used to keep the temperature stable was 'no longer there'. Around 40 patients, some of whom have indicated they may take legal action, have been affected by the incident. Italian officials have said all the women involved still have a chance of conceiving.
Domenico Alessio, director of the Italian hospital, blamed the French industrial gas firm Air Liquide who supply the hospital with liquid nitrogen. 'It's Air Liquide's responsibility', Alessio told the Il Messaggero daily newspaper. However, talking to La Stampa, the director conceded that an alarm was triggered by the rising temperature inside the freezer where the embryos were stored but 'no-one heard it' because the freezer was in the basement.
In a statement, Air Liquide said, 'We are profoundly sorry for this event'. The company confirmed it will 'pay out compensation if its responsibility is confirmed'. Air Liquide, which has begun its own internal inquiry, said it is 'providing maximum cooperation with the hospital to help identify the cause of the problem'.
According to the Italian news agency AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italia - Italian Journalist Agency), an inspection of the facility carried out by experts from Italy's National Centre for Transplants concluded that 'organisation at the centre is far from ideal'. It continued: 'There are no quality assurance systems in place, structures and routine checks on structures are inadequate and monitoring operations reveal serious shortcomings'.
The investigations are ongoing.