Three men are considering legal action against a sperm bank in the USA after their frozen sperm samples were allegedly destroyed following a reported malfunction in the bank's storage system. Its operators have said the error could affect as many as 200 patients, reports the Chicago Tribune.
The men, who had stored their sperm at a facility owned by the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation (NMFF) in Chicago, obtained a court order requiring the disclosure of all relevant documentation including inspection records and maintenance reports to the men's lawyers.
'Today's order ensures both the preservation of all critical components of the system's failure as well as all documents pertaining to that failure', said Michael Demetrio of law firm Corboy & Demetrio, who is representing the men.
The disclosure will allow lawyers to investigate details released in a press release by the NMFF that a cryogenic storage tank used for storing sperm samples malfunctioned on two dates in April. Additionally, the alarm system failed to alert technicians and many samples were destroyed by the time the breakdown was discovered on the following Monday.
The three men, who claim their sperm was among the samples destroyed, were all affected by illnesses or were undergoing medical treatments that could leave them infertile, their lawyers said.
'This is an unforgivable event that has led these three individuals - these three victims - to not be able to start families of their own in the future', said Matthew Jenkins, also from Corboy & Demetrio. 'They are absolutely devastated', he added.
The NMFF said nearly 200 fertility patients were alerted of the equipment failure. About 100 samples were tested and scheduled to be discarded, but according to a statement, the foundation 'expressed hope that many of the samples would still be viable for IVF procedures'.
Dr Phillip Roemer, the foundation's chief medical officer, said in a statement: 'We deeply regret that this occurred and understand how upsetting this can be to our patients, so our primary focus has been on them and their needs'.
Many fertility patients choose to have their sperm, embryos or eggs preserved so that reproductive procedures could allow them to become parents in the future. However, Josephine Johnston from the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York, said 'the fact that this kind of malfunction could happen at a fertility clinic is a frightening piece of news for fertility patients in general'.