IVF mix-up in California left woman pregnant with strangers’ twins, lawsuit says

A Los Angeles clinic is accused of a fertility treatment mix-up that left a New York woman carrying twin boys unrelated to her or to each other — babies she had to give up to their biological parents after giving birth, according to a lawsuit the couple filed against the clinic.

The woman and her husband had been having trouble conceiving since they were married in 2012, so they traveled from their home in Queens, New York, to CHA Fertility Center in California to meet with doctors starting in January 2018, according to the federal lawsuit filed on July 1.

The Asian couple said they spent more than $100,000 on travel and medical care as they worked with the clinic to grow embryos from the couples’ sperm and eggs, and then to implant them in the woman through in vitro fertilization.

By September 2018, the woman was pregnant with twins, according to the lawsuit.

But in sonograms at three months and five months, the couple learned something odd: The woman was carrying twin boys. That should have been impossible, because “only one male embryo existed and was not transferred to” the woman in her most recent round of treatments — meaning both babies should have been girls, according to the lawsuit.

The couple called CHA Fertility Clinic doctors, who said the tests were mistaken and assured them “they were having girls and that nothing was wrong,” the lawsuit said.

Then the woman gave birth by Caesarean section on March 31, 2019 — but neither of the children appeared to be of Asian descent, according to the lawsuit. DNA testing confirmed the non-Asian children weren’t related to either Asian parent, or even to each either.

Instead, the babies belonged to other couples who had used the clinic, and so the couple were “required to relinquish custody … thus suffering the loss of two children,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the clinic and doctors of medical malpractice, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract and more.

A lawyer listed for the clinic did not immediately respond to McClatchy’s request for comment on Monday.

In the lawsuit, the couple also accuse the clinic of not telling them what became of the embryos that were supposed to be implanted in the would-be mother, and of “continuing to wrongfully conceal the whereabouts of … two embryos that we know were not transferred to” the woman.

The couple are identified only by their initials in the lawsuit to protect their privacy.

Mishaps aren’t unheard of at fertility clinics, particularly considering how involved a process in vitro fertilization can be, CBS reports.

“It’s this agonizing process to grow embryos,” expert Jake Anderson said, according to the TV network. “And it involves almost over 200 different steps and when you assume this happens to thousands of patients every year within that laboratory, all of a sudden you’ve got a lot of moving parts.”

Assisted reproductive technology, or ART — the main form of which is IVF — has grown more common across the United States in recent years, with 448 clinics reporting 78,052 live-born infants in 2017 with the help of those fertility tools, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Although the use of ART is still relatively rare as compared to the potential demand, its use has doubled over the past decade,” the federal health agency says. “Today, approximately 1.7% of all infants born in the United States every year are conceived using ART.”

The New York couple’s lawyer said in a statement that the pair “sustained traumatic emotional injuries and financial losses” and want “to ensure that this tragedy never happens again,” CBS reports.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.