There are a range of reasons that can drive people to head to a fertility clinic, but the goal is all the same: To make a baby. Fertility treatments range from the mild, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) — also known as artificial insemination — to the more complex, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). But, for some unlucky patients, somewhere along the way the wrong embryo gets implanted or the wrong sperm is used and they end up pregnant with someone else's baby.
"Every clinic must have an established protocol that they follow perfectly every time," explains Dr. Mary Hinckley, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Science Center of the Bay Area. "This protocol must have checks in the system from different people at different times to ensure that sperm is not switched or embryos mislabeled. Last minute changes, exceptions, sloppy paperwork or verbal communication all contribute to problems."
Although 176,275 instances of assisted reproductive technology were reported to the Centers for Disease Control in 2012 alone, Dr. Randy Morris explained to Fox News that the risk of becoming pregnant with the wrong embryo or sperm is only an estimated one in 150,000. However, a few couples actually do find themselves on the wrong side of the statistics.
In 2004, the New York Daily News reported that New York couple Thomas and Nancy Andrews sued the New York Medical Service for Reproductive Medicine for inseminating Andrews with semen that was not from her husband. After the birth of the couple's healthy baby girl, features in the newborn raised suspicion that was later confirmed through DNA tests.
After years of struggling with infertility and dangerous pregnancy-related health issues, Sean and Carolyn Savage of Sylvania, Ohio, sought out the aid of a fertility clinic in 2009. The couple was soon informed that she was implanted with another couple's embryos. The Savages have since handed over the healthy baby boy to his biological parents, welcomed twins through a surrogate and are currently expecting a surprise new addition to the family. Savage wrote about the life-changing incident in her book, Inconceivable.
Most recently, USAToday.com reports that a couple's Dec. 4, 2013, Sandro Pertini Hospital procedure in Rome left a woman pregnant with the wrong embryos as well. However, this couple wasn't notified until three months into the pregnancy and an investigation is underway to detect whether the other three couples undergoing procedures the same day were also affected.
Although fertility clinic mix-ups are rare, there are a couple of options to explore when seeking fertility-related procedures:
While these options won't make the decision whether to implant the wrong embryo or continue a pregnancy any easier, it can put your mind at ease that you're not going to be pregnant with the wrong baby. Fertility clinic mistakes can be emotionally devastating to patients dreaming of a baby-to-be, but overall they are luckily unlikely.
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