The Province

ABAN­DONED EM­BRYOS

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@the­p­rovince.com 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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