IVF blunders, mistakes or errors – just not rare
The end of 2016 wasn’t a good one for IVF and couples needing medical help in order to conceive. First came the blunder from the Dutch Utrecht Medical Centre that as many as 26 eggs may have been fertilised with sperm from “a wrong man”. It was called a “procedural error”, which is strange as the procedures include double checking to avoid these erors. In case they still occur, it leads to logical conclusion they are bound to happen any time soon again. In fact, according to the government watchdog in Britain – the Human Fertility and Embryology Association, the number of very serious Category A or B blunders has increased more than fourfold since 2008. In 2010 some 564 serious errors occured in British IVF centers only, which is more than ten every week. Apart from obvious wrong sperm, wrong embryo cases there are serious mistakes such as frozen sperm being removed from storage prematurely, dishes contaminated with “cellular debris”, in other words containing sperm from another man. These are accompanied with thousands of “minor” mistakes, such as breaches of confidentiality, eggs being rendered unusable during the processing of treatment and others.
Now surely, nobody would come to the idea HFEA is against IVF because they are reporting on these mistakes, wrongdoings, criticising particular practises and clinics. Every person with basic respect to science, medicine and patients must know this is happening for the good of all the future clients, roadpatients and for improvement of procedures, which led to these cases of confusion, uncertainty, anguish and utter despair. What can be more important to any child, any parent, emotionally, psychologically, socially and legally than the answer to the question: who is my parent and is this my child? What can be worse for a pregnant woman, who has been waiting to have a child for twelve years and paid thousands of EUR, underwent dozens of treatments than getting a phonecall about such mistake?
Sometimes we in the in-fertility network are accused to be against IVF, which is a fundamental lie, because we report, ask questions and insist on true and honest answers. Naturally, the accusations come from IVF lobbists (as if IVF would need any lobbying in a developed society), co-operating with the ever richer business stakeholders, which is OK, as long as they are not organisations acting in the interest of the patients. It is, in the view of #inthefertility, exactly these organisations, who should follow the mistakes closely, report on them sensibly and insist on their investigation and improvement of procedures leading to these errors with profound consequence to those, whose interests they claim to represent.
A couple of days after the Dutch incident, there was the embryo exchange news from the “low cost of IVF treatment” land, from the Czech Republic, widely used for purchase of eggs, still for some reason called egg donation. The Reprofit clinic in Brno, quite popular among clients from abroad, exchanged the embryos of two couples from the EU, one presumably from Austria.
Following was a range of bad news: the clinic said the system in place was ok, it was simply a human failure and all persons involved are suspended. Measures were implemented to avoid this from happening in the future, but how? Will they employ a robot? What measures are these, we rightly ask. To illustrate the seriousness of the issue, there is the latest information that only one couple achieved pregnancy so the presumed exchange of babies, which in itself would be a very dramatic event, is impossible.
The in-fertility network is therefore iniciating action and calling for accountability. We are approaching both involved clinics and the licencing bodies in order to find the answers to in-fertility’s questions. These dramatic IVF failures with lifelong implications for many people may be called blunders, mistakes or errors – call them whatever you want, just not a unique case, solitary or rare. One in thousand cases would be too much, but statistically they occur dozen times more and only from what we know of.
IVF is a magnificent and still developing medical procedure. Using it wisely and responsibly does not guarante a healthy child for every woman, but for a healthy woman in natural reproductive age it provides a fair chance to become a mother. As every complex medical procedure, it comes with risks and can be improved. The most important message is that trying to improve it and lower the risks as well as deal with and resolve the ethical, legal, financial and last but not least commercial issues consistently is definitely not being against IVF, but in its best of interest.