Skip to comments.Clinic Mix-Up Sparks Fears over IVF H
Posted on 07/09/2002 7:54:13 AM PDT by ELS
| LONDON (Reuters) - A mix-up at a British clinic that left a white couple with black twins has sparked fears about the reliability of fertility treatment and left the law scrambling to catch up with science.
While there are strict injunctions on identifying the twins and their sets of vying "parents," the case has thrown a spotlight on how medicine can mess with nature, leaving courts to pick up the pieces.
"Embryos all look the same," Sonya Jerkovic, in charge of the London Fertility Center's laboratory, told Reuters after the latest blunder at an unnamed clinic. "It's our worst nightmare."
One British newspaper likened the situation to a lottery. A Guardian cartoon pictured expectant mothers lining up to take a "lucky dip" in the IVF bucket with a doctor looking on.
Fertility experts say mistakes are rare but admit that mix-ups can happen.
Britain's Sun newspaper revealed Monday that a white couple had had black twins as a result of a mistake during fertility treatment.
The case, the first of its kind in Britain, will go to court this autumn. The courts will decide which couple -- the white couple or a black couple who also claim parentage of the twins -- should be considered the babies' parents, what rights the twins have and who will be blamed for the blunder.
For the 27,000 would-be parents who go through IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment in Britain each year, it is yet another pressure to overcome on the emotional rollercoaster to parenthood.
"You place a huge amount of trust in a clinic and you have to have trust in that clinic. To find that trust has been misplaced is devastating," Kate Brian, a fertility expert who had two children with IVF treatment, told BBC radio.
Experts say the latest mistake could have occurred in one of three ways in the IVF process, which involves fertilizing an egg with sperm before implanting the resulting embryo in the womb.
The wrong sperm could have been used to fertilize the right egg, the right sperm could have been used to fertilize the wrong egg, or the embryo implanted in the woman may have been another couple's altogether.
But however it happened, the couple, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are believed to want to keep the children.
Cases of IVF mix ups have hit the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic in the past decade and reap emotional devastation for couples already struggling with fears of childlessness.
"When I learned the truth my first reaction was to feel as if I had been raped," Dutch housewife Wilma Stuart said after giving birth to a white son and a black son in 1993 following IVF treatment.
"When you discover that one of your twins had another father, someone you never saw or knew anything about, the shock is unbelievable," she told reporters after the birth.
An investigation into the Stuarts' case concluded that a pipette used to place sperm in the womb had not been sterilized.
In that case the Stuarts were able to keep both their children after the biological father decided not to make a legal claim on his son, but others have not been so lucky.
Donna Fasano, a white women from New York, found herself at the center of an IVF mix-up in 1998 dubbed by the American media as the "scrambled eggs" case.
She had given birth to black and white twins after a black couple's embryo was mistakenly implanted along with her own.
After a long court case, Fasano was forced to hand over the black child to his biological parents Deborah and Robert Rogers.
Bernard Clair, the Rogers' lawyer, said in cases such as these genetics was the determining factor.
"If a mother finds herself in the situation where she is carrying a stowaway (another couple's baby), the mother is obligated to try to undo the mistake by immediately avoiding a bond being created," he told BBC radio.
However, he admitted the British case would be much harder on the parents because they were faced with the possibility of having to give up both children. Nor is the law advanced enough to handle such complex cases, he said.
"There is no hard and fast rule because the courts realize that they are a step or two behind science," Clair said.