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Assisted Reproduction

Has Anyone Seen My Embryo Lately?

An update on the Ochsner Medical Center embryo mix-up debacle:

The mix-up in labeling embryos that led Ochsner Medical Center to suspend indefinitely its in vitro fertilization center last week is causing anxiety among patients and heightened concern among the specialists who operate such facilities.As many as 125 couples were affected by the mislabeling. An investigation is under way to determine how the error occurred, said spokeswoman Amiee Goforth, who declined further comment.

“People who have had any kind of procedure in the fertility clinic are concerned, ” said Melanie Lagarde, a lawyer representing Kim and Abraham Whitney, a Lafourche Parish couple whose four frozen embryos have been lost. The Whitneys have a 1-year-old daughter who was conceived at Ochsner via in vitro fertilization, a procedure that can cost upwards of $25,000 and often is not covered by private insurance. “I think they’re incredibly angry, ” Lagarde said. “Something that they saved their hard-earned money for, that they took so seriously, Ochsner seems to have treated with incredibly little care.”

The day before Ochsner announced that it was shutting its clinic, an Ohio woman who had been implanted with the wrong embryo at a clinic she refused to name gave birth to a son.There is no evidence that such a mistake occurred among Ochsner patients, Chief Medical Officer Joseph Bisordi said last week. “What happened at Ochsner and what happened in Ohio is causing clinics to take a look a their procedures and evaluate them to see if they feel they’re adequate or if they need to be enhanced, ” said Eleanor Nicoll, a spokeswoman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

According to the organization, every in vitro fertilization procedure and outcome must be reported to the federal government, and the federal Food and Drug Administration regulates all drugs, devices and tissues used in such treatments. “Even with these efforts, the incidents . . . make it clear that there is still work to do, ” said Dr. Robert Rebar, president of the society.

From all the statistics I have read, the likelihood of the wrong embryo being transferred occurs less than 1 out of every 1,000,000 transfers. Then again, I have to believe that this statistic is nothing more than an optimistic estimate. In the few reported cases involving botched embryo transfers, the resulting child is often of a different race making the mistake obvious. However, how many couples actually do genetic testing on their child following an IVF transfer? Absent testing on every child born from IVF, there is really on way to quantify how frequently these errors occur. While I am in no way suggesting that these mistakes are anything but highly aberrational, I suspect there will be a significant increase in the number of IVF patients who will now undergo genetic testing to eliminate any doubt – particularly those who treated with Ochsner Medical Center.


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