CHA Fertility Center in Los Angeles has “fulfilled the dreams of tens of thousands of aspiring parents” around the world since its founding in 2001, according to its website. But it’s quickly become nationally known after an embryo mixup led one New York City couple to deliver boys who were not their own, nor biologically related to each other. Both children are now with their biological parents.
The New York couple has sued the fertility center for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, and the Los Angeles-based biological parents of one of the babies also filed a lawsuit for emotional distress, according to a news release from the law firm representing the L.A. couple.
“CHA robbed me of my ability to carry my own child, my baby boy … to be with him in the first moments of his life,” Anni Manukyan, the biological mom of one of the babies, and the first one to speak publicly, said in a press conference Wednesday. She met her son six weeks after his birth in a hotel lobby.
The saga is shedding light on the largely unregulated fertility industry as a whole, which includes close to 500 clinics and centers. In a sense, the industry can’t even be called “a whole” since there’s no one government agency that oversees it, including by managing how centers label tissue (like embryos) or disciplining centers that don’t comply with professional guidelines, NBC News reported.
As a result, it’s impossible to know exactly how often an embryo is implanted in the wrong uterus — especially if the resulting child looks enough like its parents that no one thinks to get a genetic test to be sure. (Part of the New York City couple’s realization came from the fact that the baby wasn’t Asian, like them.) Dov Fox, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, told NBC that mistakes like this, as well as mixups like an egg being fertilized with the wrong sperm, may happen more than we realize.
“Until states establish uniformity, having children through surrogates and artificial reproductive technologies will continue to be problematic,” Maya Shulman, a Los Angeles family lawyer and IVF legal expert, said in an email statement.
That’s not to say all or even most of these clinics go rogue. Doctors still need to comply with state medical licensing requirements, for one, and clinics presumably use medical equipment and donor tissue that’s been regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A measure of self-regulation also comes from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, a nonprofit with member organizations that are required to advertise truthfully, accurately report outcomes, and work with nationally accredited labs, according to the organization. Some 90% of assisted reproductive technology clinics in the U.S. belong to SART, including CHA Fertility Center. But even highly-regarded organizations can’t always prevent errors.
Do your research and ask questions before choosing a fertility center
Fertility clinics are “different on many levels: the medical protocols they deploy, levels of individual attention they provide, biases around single and multiple embryo transfer, lab quality, price, nature of the clinicians, and overall competency,” according to FertilityIQ, a website that collects data and reviews from patients about their experiences at fertility clinics.
In addition to searching FertilityIQ, couples looking for a fertility center can use resources like SART and Resolve.org, which is run by Resolve: The National Infertility Association, a nonprofit nationwide network that promotes reproductive health.
When visiting facilities, ask questions like how many procedures it does each year, how experienced the providers are, and what their training is, infertility expert Dr. Paul Turek told U.S. News & World Report. A higher volume of procedures typically indicates expertise.
Couples can also ask prospective clinics about their processes for ensuring the correct sperm and egg are put together, and for making sure the right embryo is identified before it’s placed in the uterus, Dr. Eric Widra, chief medical officer of fertility clinic Shady Grove Fertility, previously told INSIDER.
It’s important to trust your gut, Turek told U.S. News.”Your gametes are one of life’s most precious commodities,” he said. “You use a lot of different factors to decide who’s going to handle your retirement or keepsake your jewelry. Use the same sorts of input for this precious resource.”