July 9, 2019 4:55 pm
Updated: July 16, 2019 11:04 am

‘Living hell’: 2 couples suing fertility clinic after embryo mixup

WATCH: Couple forced to give up babies after embryo mixup during IVF treatment.

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UPDATE: This story was updated on July 16 to include the second lawsuit launched against CHA Fertility on July 10. 

The CHA Fertility Center in Los Angeles is being sued by two separate couples after allegedly implanting embryos in the wrong woman.

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The first couple, who lives in New York, underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 2018. They became pregnant with twins and gave birth in March of this year.

According to CNN, the unnamed couple — both of Asian descent — realized something was wrong when the mother gave birth to two non-Asian babies.

READ MORE: Licence revoked for Ottawa fertility doctor who inseminated women with own sperm

A DNA test determined that the babies weren’t related to A.P. or Y.Z., as they are referred to in court documents, nor were they related to one another.

The couple has since filed a civil lawsuit against the clinic, alleging they were forced to give the babies up to their respective biological parents. The couple also claims the clinic knew about the mistake but tried to cover it up throughout the pregnancy. Global News has not been able to independently examine the lawsuit in question.

One week later, the biological parents of one of the babies are also suing the CHA Fertility Center.

READ MORE: ‘It was very overwhelming’ — LGBTQ2 couple opens up about journey to have children

Anni and Ashot Manukyan, who live in California, claim they have endured a “living hell” since finding out their son was born to a stranger on the other side of the country.

In a lawsuit filed for medical malpractice and negligence against CHA Fertility, the Manukyans say they did not meet their newborn son until he was six weeks old.

“I wasn’t there for his birth, I did not carry him, I did not feel him kick inside of me,” Anni Manukyan said in an interview with Today. “Nobody should meet their baby in the lobby of a hotel.”

WATCH: Some babies may be getting unnecessary surgery to help them breastfeed

The couple said in a press conference that the babies were born on March 31, but they weren’t called in for a DNA test until 11 or 12 days later. One day later, the clinic confirmed they had a newborn son.

“She said: ‘Think of it as a good thing — you have a son now,’ and I just lashed out,” Anni Manukyan said. “What about the woman, you know? What is she going through right now?”

Ashot Manukyan said they’re suing so that CHA can’t hurt any other families.

“We fought to get our boy back, and now we will fight to make sure this never happens again,” he said in a press release.

READ MORE: Don’t smoke pot if you’re struggling to conceive — doctor

CHA Fertility Center did not respond to a request for comment from Global News.

The New York lawsuit

According to court documents, A.P. and Y.Z. struggled with infertility for six years, at which point they decided to undergo IVF — a treatment that cost them more than US$100,000.

The cost includes charges for the facility, specialist and doctors fees as well as medication, lab expenses and travel costs. The couple had to travel from New York to Los Angeles for the treatment.

The couple initiated treatment in January 2018, undergoing months of medicine and tests — a process that yielded eight viable female embryos.

WATCH: Couple sues Los Angeles fertility clinic after they say embryo planted in wrong women

A.P. attempted to have an embryo implanted at the same clinic in July of that year, but it didn’t work. The couple tried again in August, thawing two more embryos, and by September, A.P. was pregnant.

The pair were “ecstatic,” according to court documents, but the feeling didn’t last long. Multiple ultrasounds suggested the couple were expecting twin boys, which didn’t make sense because the couple only had female embryos.

They called the CHA Fertility Center, at which point the clinic’s co-owners, Dr. Joshua Berger and Simon Hong, dismissed concerns, according to the New York Post. The co-owners told the paper the ultrasounds were “not a definitive test.”

READ MORE: ‘Fertility isn’t funny’ — Why you shouldn’t pretend to be pregnant on April Fools’ Day

According to court documents, A.P. and Y.Z. aren’t sure what happened to their previously thawed embryos.

In the lawsuit, the couple claims they were “required to relinquish custody of Baby A and Baby B, thus suffering the loss of two children,” an event that has left them with “permanent emotional injuries from which they will not recover.”

Whose baby is it?

In New York, where the lawsuit against the CHA Fertility Center was filed, a surrogate is presumed to be the legal parent of the child to whom she gives birth.

According to Rumbold & Seidelman, LLP, “if they are not the genetic parents of the child, the intended parents will be required to adopt.”

However, in situations where the intended parents are also the genetic parents of the child and the surrogate does not object, “orders of parentage” will need to be obtained to avoid adoption.

It’s unclear whether or not the genetic parents obtained “orders of parentage” in this case.

WATCH: Kelowna family wants to donate in vitro treatment to a couple in need

Based on the reported facts, fertility lawyer and founder of Fertility Law Canada Sara Cohen believes the CHA should be held responsible for “significant negligence.”

“There could be more to the story, but that’s what it looks like at first glance,” she said. “You can’t be cavalier about something like this.”

“It doesn’t just affect your patient, it affects children and how they’re brought into the world.

“It potentially could affect who their parents are. It could affect other parents. This is a huge snowball effect.”

READ MORE: The frustration and struggle behind an ‘unexplained’ infertility diagnosis.

Cohen, who has worked in fertility law for years, said she’s witnessed first-hand the trauma that can come from a mistake like this one.

“I can just imagine these people who have been trying to have a baby for six years and the kind of pain they must be in, to finally have a baby and then be told it’s not theirs,” she said.

Cohen is interested to see what damages are awarded to A.P. and Y.Z., if any — she anticipates a high number given the “significant” pain and suffering caused by the clinic.

The loss of a child

“Giving up a child affects the entirety of one’s health,” said Ailey Jolie, a clinical trauma therapist based in Vancouver.

“The birth and the actual surrendering of the baby may prompt feelings of numbness, shock and denial as well as grief.”

WATCH: What people need to know about getting their tubes tied

“Having a baby changes a new mother’s brain chemistry, and the flood of hormones that enter one’s body can cause confusion — especially if there’s no baby to care for,” she added.

“Women who give up their child have a brain that has altered to allow them to be better caregivers to their newborns. However, they don’t have their child,” said Jolie. “This leads to even more confusion, grief and often depression. Their brain and body do not understand the loss.”

Jolie said giving up a baby after birth is drastically different from losing a child to death — partly because there’s usually no “public acknowledgement” of the situation.

READ MORE: Social egg freezing on the rise as more women embrace single parenthood

“Friends and family of the birth parents may attempt to ignore the loss by pretending nothing has happened,” she said.

According to Jolie, needing to unexpectedly give up two babies — as A.P. and Y.Z. allege they did — likely took a massive toll on their mental, physical and emotional well-being.

“The healing process from this type of event I would anticipate to be long but possible,” she said.

How to protect yourself

There wasn’t really a way for A.P. and Y.Z. to protect themselves in this situation, said Cohen. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure your fertility treatment is going according to plan.

The first is doing plenty of research on available fertility clinics before you choose one. Speaking with former patients and reading reviews online is a good place to start.

“If a clinic is reputable, that certainly doesn’t mean it’s perfect, and it doesn’t mean that mistakes can’t be made,” she said.

READ MORE: How fertility apps are changing the way women conceive

Cohen also recommends meeting with doctors and asking about their record-keeping policies.

“[A.P. and Y.Z.’s case] could have been something as simple as a three looking like an eight [on a label],” she said.

After your baby is born, Cohen said it doesn’t hurt to undergo DNA testing.

“A lot of people don’t want to do it [because] it’s a cost, but we hear about so many mistakes that I think it’s worth checking,” she said.

Cohen also suggests that you review contracts with a lawyer prior to signing, although whether specific points are negotiable will depend on the clinic.

WATCH: Common struggles couples facing infertility are dealing with

“I’ve found a lot of clinics aren’t willing to negotiate [the contract points] with a patient… but these people are really vulnerable. They need the service,” she said. “I think people would be shocked [at] how badly people want a child [and] what they’re willing to put up with.”

Ultimately, though, Cohen doesn’t want to alarm people about a problem that is very rare.

“We’ve had so many babies born through IVF, and I don’t think this is a typical problem,” she said. “I think people should do their best to be proactive [and] involved in their own treatment but don’t overthink. [Problems] like these are very rare.”

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca

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