Thousands of Frozen Eggs and Embryos Feared Destroyed at California Fertility Clinic

Some eggs and embryos at a San Francisco fertility center may no longer be viable after a storage tank malfunction. The Pacific Fertility Center said a piece of equipment in its cyro-storage laboratory

Elliott says they first found out about the failure on the news, and the fertility clinic later called them to confirm that their embryos were no longer viable.

"What is most disturbing to me is that everyone I talked to has been informed by UH that their embryos are not viable, they've been destroyed, different from what has been out there publicly which has been that they've been compromised, we don't know".

According to Herbert, the extent to which the chemical failure damaged the eggs and embryos remains unclear. The failure was discovered by the clinic's lab director, who noticed the level of liquid nitrogen in one of its steel storage tanks was too low, which resulted in a temperature increase.

The hospital is investigating whether mechanical or human error caused the freezer to malfunction. One to three eggs may be stored in a unit. The couple was paying $400 a year to store the embryos at the clinic.

The suit comes after a disaster earlier this week at the fertility clinic which may have damaged more than 2,000 embryos and eggs.

The hope and ultimate goal with the lawsuit, the family said, is to make sure another family doesn't feel the same loss ever again.

The clinic has reported the incident to the College of American Pathologists, which regulates labs, and the overseers of California's tissue banks, Herbert said.

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"With two apparently happening on the same day, we have to find out what other types of commonalities there were", he said.

The clinic has not released any information yet about the number of eggs and embryos that have been impacted, but says the malfunctioning tank stored "several thousand" samples, which clinic spokesman Alden Romney said represent about 15 percent of the total stored at the facility. While the staff spent days sorting through records to verify which patients' tissue was inside, he said they do not yet know how many of them were still planning to use it.

Samples would need to be unthawed to determine whether they've been damaged.

Herbert is a longtime physician and researcher in assisted reproductive technology.

There was increased security at University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center Friday night. He moved to San Francisco in 1990 and, with colleagues, purchased Pacific Fertility Center nine years later. Some dated to the 1980s.

The center said it had brought in independent experts to conduct a full investigation and was reaching out to its patients: "We are truly sorry this happened and for the anxiety that this will surely cause".

Author Information: Amy Goldstein is The Washington Post's national health-care policy writer.

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