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Incidence of misdirected embryos 'very rare' in Canada: Cohen

Despite a recent warning in the U.S. about a handful of IVF mix-ups resulting in “misdirected” embryos ending up in the wrong women’s bodies, Toronto fertility lawyer Sara Cohen says it is “very, very rare” in Canada, and parents here shouldn’t panic.

"It is always a remote possibility and it pays to be careful, but at the end of the day, the Canadian clinics are excellent, she says.

In fact, Cohen, founder of Fertility Law Canada at D2Law LLP, says she’s never seen the type of situation revealed by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) article in her law practice.

“I don’t think people need to worry here,” Cohen tells AdvocateDaily.com. “It is important to be aware and it is a good idea to do things to make sure the right test tube is there and the right labels are on, but at the same time I don’t think people here need to be particularly concerned. It is quite simply an extremely unlikely event especially when working with quality clinics and quality doctors.”

A National Post story about the ASRM article says experts are warning about mistakes being made, including misdirected embryos. The article further says clinics are ethically obliged to disclose errors that could end with babies born to different "genetic parentage than intended."

The mistakes could include combining the wrong sperm with the wrong eggs, transferring the wrong embryos into the wrong uterus, or inseminating a woman with the wrong sperm, says the article that first appeared in Fertility and Sterility journal.

The Post reports that in the U.S. and other places where the handful of cases have been reported, the courts have decided custody and parentage.

But Cohen notes it doesn't mean that while it is rare that it can't happen, pointing to a 2013 Ottawa situation involving a noted fertility doctor who was banned for from practising for two months after admitting three women were artificially inseminated with the wrong semen over a 20-year period. 

"We definitely have some American cases where wrong embryos have been transferred, but I personally have never seen this happen with my clientele," says Cohen. "While it is important to be aware, I don't think people need to be concerned about this."

But while misdirected embryos are not an issue in Canada, Cohen says when it comes to surrogacy, particularly in a developing country, a DNA test should be done upon birth.

"If it is in Canada I’m not particularly concerned, but if the baby is born through surrogacy involving certain other locations internationally I would be quite concerned and very strongly recommend they do the testing," says Cohen. 

For example, she points to a situation wherein "we had a Canadian couple who went to India for surrogacy. Two embryos were transferred, one was the right embryo; they had the genetic connection to the Canadian intended parents. But the other baby had no genetic connection with the Canadian parents.

"So that was really problematic because a baby born through surrogacy in India has no right to Indian citizenship and that baby had no right to Canadian citizenship because they didn’t have the right genetic connection to the Canadians," she notes.

Cohen says that in Ontario a DNA test is required when doing surrogacy. "But if you are doing IVF and you assume you are doing it with your own gametes, no I don’t think most people need to do DNA testing."

But, she says, if someone is concerned, there are home saliva-based DNA testing kits available. "I think it depends on the person. I think for the most part you can relax, but if it is gnawing at you, it is quite easy to do.

"Once again the message, in spite of this study that’s come out, is it just so rare here," says Cohen, noting Canadian clinics take these matters very seriously. "Generally I would say I have seen everything but I have never seen that."

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