For the second time in a week, a fertility clinic’s frozen embryo storage tank malfunctioned. This follows a disaster in a Cleveland clinic which destroyed thousands of lives, left almost 700 mothers-to-be in mourning, and is forcing Americans to take a hard look at just how far we have strayed from the truth about the sacredness of human life.
CNN is reporting on a malfunction at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco when a piece of equipment in its cryo-storage laboratory “lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period of time” on March 4. In this case, “the vast majority of the eggs and embryos in the lab were unaffected,” the Center said, after staff transferred the “tissue” to a new storage area.
However, couples who had eggs or embryos stored at University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland, Ohio were not so lucky. On the same weekend, one of their long-term storage tanks malfunctioned, resulting in temperatures gradually warming, which thawed the frozen cells and ruined any chance that they might be viable for future use.
In an interview with CBS News, Amber Ash, who had embryos stored at the facility, said that when she heard about the malfunction, she felt physically ill.
“I felt just sick to my stomach. The world of infertility is just very isolating world, it’s very lonely it’s complete loss of control. For some this is their last hope, I mean they physically, financially, mentally can’t put themselves through that again,” Amber said.
I’ve gone from anger, I’ve gone through just feeling a sense of loss, grief, I think right now I’m just angry to be honest.”
Amber and her husband, Elliott, who have a son, opted to use the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process for future children when they learned that Elliot had cancer.
“I know that when I had cancer we saved my sperm and we thought well maybe we’ll go back for another retrieval and do another embryo implantation,” Elliott said.
However, Amber’s doctors advised her against another pregnancy so the couple was hoping to have another child through a surrogate.
They are now faced with the reality of having no more children.
Another woman, Katelynn Gurbach, 23, who froze her eggs after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, told WKYC that she lost her hopes for motherhood in the Cleveland malfunction.
“The unthinkable, the unimaginable, the unbelievable has happened. My worst fears and deepest nightmares made a reality,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
A class action lawsuit has been filed against University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center by the DiCello Levitt & Casey law firm.
“Our clients are absolutely devastated, as I’m sure countless families across Ohio are, in the wake of this catastrophic failure by University Hospitals,” said Mark DiCello, attorney for the plaintiffs in a statement to Fox 8.
“Let’s not forget those affected are grieving the loss of thousands of potential daughters and sons. They are in a state of confusion, anger and sorrow, with too many unanswered questions. With this lawsuit, we will get answers and stop this from happening again.”
The outcome of this case will likely be a blow to the U.S. fertility business in the U.S. – which is currently a multi-billion-dollar industry – and perhaps spur the reform that many have been calling for.
As Father Tad Pacholczyk explains, “The infertility industry has become an embryo mass-production line with virtually no legal oversight or national regulation. Catering to strong parental desires, it is a multibillion dollar business aptly described as the ‘wild west of infertility’. To start to bring this into check, strong laws and regulations like those found in Germany and Italy are urgently needed. In those countries, no more than three embryos may be produced for each infertility treatment, and all three must be implanted into their mother. Extra embryos may not be produced or frozen; as a result, there are essentially no frozen embryos stored in German and Italian fertility clinics.”
In Donum Vitae, the Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception. Therefore, the human embryo must be respected and treated as a person from that moment forward and recognized to have, above all, the right to life. In addition, it must be defended in its integrity, tended and cared for, to the extent possible, in the same way as any other human being (Part I, 1).
It goes on to say that “freezing of embryos (cryopreservation) constitutes an offence against the respect due to human beings by exposing them to grave risks of death or harm to their physical integrity and depriving them, at least temporarily, of maternal shelter and gestation, thus placing them in a situation in which further offences and manipulation are possible” (Part I, 6).
Equally clear and painfully sad is the statement that “in consequence of the fact that they have been produced in vitro, those embryos that are not transferred into the body of the mother and are called ‘spare’ are exposed to an absurd fate, with no possibility of their being offered safe means of survival which can be licitly pursued” (Part I, 5).
It is only when clinic tragedies such as this one occur that Americans, whether Catholic or not, are forced to see just how far we have strayed from the truth about the sacredness of human life.
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