The Province


Nearly 3,000 sperm and more than 1,000 embryos are set for destructio­n with the closure of a B.C. gov’t facility

- dfumano@theprovinc­ KEITH FRASER AND DAN FUMANO

Thousands of orphaned sperm samples and embryos are set for destructio­n after a B.C. fertility clinic closed.

Nearly 3,000 sperm samples and more than 1,000 embryos are in cold storage at the cost of almost $2,000 a day after the government­owned Vancouver clinic shut down in November.

The Provincial Health Services Authority, which is responsibl­e for the clinic, has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking for a court order to have the specimens disposed of if the remaining clients can’t be contacted.

Dr. Jeff Roberts has worked in fertility services for more than 10 years, and has never heard of a situation like this in Canada, where a clinic is left with thousands of samples.

“It’s a tough spot to be in,” said Roberts, co-director of the Pacific Centre for Reproducti­ve Medicine, B.C.’s largest fertility clinic.

Roberts said his practice, like other private fertility clinics in B.C., received a number of new clients and samples in the wake of the public facility’s closure.

“The challenge in our field is what to do with samples in certain situations, because of course, you don’t want to be seen as destroying life, especially embryos,” Roberts said. “The worst fear, of course, within our field is that sample identity gets mixed up or a sample gets destroyed.”

Dr. Sonya Kashyap of Genesis Fertility Centre also believed this may be the first case of its kind in Canada, and possibly North America.

“That’s a difficult situation,” Kashyap said. “It’s very difficult to fathom having to discard specimens without explicit permission.”

Among the PHSA’s reasons for closing the clinic were the fact that there were numerous other private clinics offering the same services and the clinic hadn’t kept pace with technologi­cal advancemen­ts.

In July last year, a letter was sent to all clients of the clinic asking them whether they wished to have their specimens transferre­d to another clinic or destroyed. While 341 clients responded, another 847 — who have 4,036 specimens stored at the clinic — didn’t. Of those 4,036 “cryopreser­ved” specimens, 2,969 are sperm and 1,067 are embryos.

Agreements signed by clients allow the specimens to be destroyed in certain circumstan­ces, including if the clinic is closed.

Ross Robertson, 29, stored sperm samples at the clinic before he had a liver transplant three years ago. After his operation was a success and he no longer needed the specimens, Robertson left them there. When he received the clinic’s letter he didn’t respond, because he was fine with his samples being discarded.

“I couldn’t care less, I can just make more,” Robertson said.

Jared White of the Abbotsford Right to Life Society said the destructio­n of the embryos would be a tragedy: “This is the reason we don’t think reproducti­on technologi­es are ethical — because they ultimately lead to the destructio­n of human life.”

All of the clinic staff have been issued layoff notices.

The PHSA continues to incur daily costs of $1,900 to store the remaining specimens, with no funding available, says the petition, which calls destructio­n of the specimens the “only viable option.”

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