Ohio couple sue fertility clinic for swapping out husband’s sperm

Published by Silver City Sun News

By Anne Saker, Cincinnati Enquirer

Published 9:55 a.m. MT Aug. 7, 2019 | Updated 3:09 p.m. MT Aug. 7, 2019

A central Ohio couple sued a Cincinnati clinic and the Christ Hospital Wednesday for swapping out the husband’s sperm when the couple underwent fertility treatment in 1994, a fact the family discovered only this year through a DNA test kit.

Jennifer and Joseph Cartellone, with their adult daughter Rebecca, announced the lawsuit against the Institute for Reproductive Health at a news conference in Washington, D.C. They said they believe Rebecca’s biological father is among a handful of men, including someone who worked at Christ Hospital.

“Never in my worst nightmare did I think that the Christmas gift of DNA testing for my family would unveil this kind of abuse of our trust by the very professionals from whom we sought help,” Joseph Cartellone said in a statement prepared for the news conference. “This has been extremely difficult for my family. I want to do whatever it takes to make sure no one else has to go through what we did.”

The Cartellones’ announcement came with a report on the industry compiled by the law firm representing the family. The report found that nail salons are more closely regulated in the United States than fertility centers.

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“The result is a ‘near Wild West’ situation where meaningful oversight is absent, error reporting is essentially voluntary, and tragic cases of lost, destroyed or otherwise improperly handled embryos appear to be on the rise,” said the report, “The Fertility Center Regulation Crisis in the United States.

The law firm is Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane, a nationwide practice representing families accusing fertility clinics of misconduct. The firm is involved in legal action against University Hospitals in Cleveland, in which the fertility service allegedly lost as many as 4,000 human embryos in March 2018 because a storage tank failed. Another 1,000 embryos were lost the same weekend at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco.

Christ Hospital spokesman Bo McMillan declined to comment Wednesday on the Cartellones’ suit. Officials with the Institute for Reproductive Health had not yet responded to requests for comment.

The Cartellone case names the Institute for Reproductive Health, with offices in Norwood, West Chester and Florence. Christ Hospital was named because the Cartellones underwent in vitro fertilization in 1994 at the Mount Auburn hospital.

The lawsuit filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court said the Cartellones, who live in Delaware, Ohio, sought help in 1994 from the fertility clinic. Dr. Sherif Awadalla, the institute’s medical director, removed eggs from Jennifer Cartellone, and the couple were promised the eggs would be fertilized with Joseph Cartellone’s sperm.

“Instead, the Christ Hospital and the other defendants combined Jennifer’s eggs with the sperm of a complete stranger,” the suit says. “They then transferred the material containing the stranger’s sperm to Jennifer.”

In November 1994, Rebecca was born, and the Cartellones had any idea that she wasn’t their biological child.

At Christmas, Rebecca, now 24, got the DNA test kits from Ancestry.com. The results came back in February with the shocking news that Rebecca was not related to her father. A paternity test confirmed that finding.

“Through remarkable perseverance, the Cartellone family has traced the likely biological father to one of a handful of individuals – one of whom worked at the Christ Hospital,” the lawsuit says.

“Despite defendants’ gross and obvious misconduct, defendants have refused to make amends for their mistake,” the lawsuit says. The family brought the case “to see answers regarding the circumstances surrounding this troubling event, as well as to seek restitution for the emotional and other harms suffered.”


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