The Washington Post

Couple accuses clinic of hiding embryo mistake


A California couple accused a fertility clinic on Wednesday of mistakenly implanting an embryo that contained a genetic mutation for a rare cancer, then altering its medical records in an attempt to cover up the mistake.

As a result of the error, the couple’s year-old child faces standard treatment of surgical stomach removal to prevent developmen­t of “diffuse gastric cancer” by the time he reaches maturity, according to a lawsuit filed by Jason and Melissa Diaz against the Huntington Reproducti­ve Center Medical Group of Pasadena.

The events alleged in the lawsuit are an example of the consequenc­es of errors in a growing but lightly regulated industry that helped women have 84,000 births in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Diazes’ allegation that the clinic attempted to cover up its mistake is an unusual aspect of the lawsuit, which also names the couple’s doctor and in vitro fertilizat­ion coordinato­r.

HRC Fertility said in a statement to KTLA in Los Angeles that it empathized with the parents but that the genetic testing was done outside of its facility by a third party. “The patients associated with the case sought genetic testing and genetic counseling outside of HRC Fertility, and with an outside party; they wished to have a male embryo transferre­d, which we carried out according to the family’s explicit wishes and in accordance with the highest level of care,” the statement reads in part.

Jason Diaz said at a news conference Wednesday that he was diagnosed with the inherited disease at 32, had his stomach removed and has been treated with chemothera­py. Instead of conceiving naturally, the couple was advised to use in vitro fertilizat­ion and genetic testing of the resulting embryos to avoid the same fate for their child.

Paul F. Mansfield, a professor of surgical oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said the child is likely to need his stomach removed, but some teens choose to be monitored frequently for cancer, though that is not the standard of care. Some patients adapt better than others to the stomach removal, he said.

Mansfield said the child’s extensive family history of this type of cancer makes it very likely that he will develop it.

In vitro fertilizat­ion produced five embryos for the Diazes, including one that the couple was told was a male without markers for the stomach cancer mutation. That embryo was implanted Jan. 8, 2021, and the couple’s son was born later that year.

But as the Diazes planned a second child, Melissa Diaz was sent a copy of her medical records, which showed the embryo contained the cancer mutation, with a handwritte­n notation that it had been “transferre­d” to her on the implantati­on date.

She demanded another copy of her records and received it in October. That version did not contain the notation about the transfer or other handwritte­n notes, suggesting the clinic sent “an altered, falsified version of the report,” according to the lawsuit.

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