The CHA Fertility Center in Los Angeles made headlines earlier this month when two families filed suit following the alleged mixup of two couples’ genetic material, resulting in one woman giving birth to two boys who were not related to her or each other. Its since been revealed that CHA’s then medical director was sued in 2006 and accused of having a sexual relationship with a patient and lying about the egg retrieval process to keep seeing her.
According to their attorney, Eric Wrubel, Anni and Ashot Manukyan had to seek custody of their baby boy in a New York court after the Manukyan’s embryo was allegedly put into the womb of another woman during an IVY procedure at CHA in Los Angeles. This other woman, who lives in New York, reportedly was implanted with two embryos that were not related to her or each other. She subsequently gave birth to two boys in March. Both children were returned to their biological parents in May.
The woman who was implanted with another couple’s embryo and her husband, known only by their initials A.P. and Y.Z., have filed suit in the Eastern District of New York accusing CHA of medical malpractice, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Manukyans have filed a similar suit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. A.P. and Y.Z., who are Korean-American, became aware of the mixup after giving birth to the boys, neither of whom were of Asian descent. They relinquished custody of both boys shortly thereafter.
Further investigation of CHA has uncovered a 2006 lawsuit filed by patient Jo-Anne Biafore against Thomas Kim, CHA’s former clinic director. Biafore claimed Kim tried to seduce her when she first saw him for fertility treatment in August 2002. Their relationship subsequently became sexual and continued for more than two years.
According to Biafore, during that time, Kim lied to her about the number of eggs he had collected so she would continue receiving treatment. Biafore sought $8 million in damages for mental and emotional distress, humiliation, fear, and anger. Biafore and Kim eventually reached a confidential settlement.
Sexual relationships with patients are illegal in California, and the state’s Medical Board later investigated Kim but apparently did not revoke his license. Kim later obtained a medical license in New Jersey, where the New Jersey Medical Examiners Board reprimanded Kim for professional misconduct but determined it was an isolated incident. Their decision was partly due to the fact that Biafore was also a physician. Currently, Kim is believed to be the medical director for a different fertility clinic in southern California.
These problems are raising concerns from critics who claim the fertility industry is woefully unregulated. Its impossible to know how often an embryo is implanted in the wrong uterus, and may happen more often than we think. In this case, it was only the fact that the baby boys were not Asian like the couple who believed the children were biologically theirs. Currently, no laws require genetic testing to make sure these errors aren’t happening. Many reproductive clinics belong to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) which provides measure of self-regulation; but there is no uniformity as to how centers label tissue (including embryos) or disciplining clinics that don’t comply with professional guidelines.
The Manukyans claim to have paid $120,000 for IVF procedures, fees, and other costs to investigate CHA’s alleged misconduct. CHA has yet to respond to either family’s suit or comment on the situation. It currently is unknown whether the biological family of the second boy born to A.P. and Y.Z. will follow suit and seek legal action against CHA.