Only KIRO 7 has learned that dozens of women hoping to have children are dealing with heartbreaking loss after their frozen embryos were mistakenly destroyed at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Tina Mankowski, director of strategic communications for UW Medicine, confirmed to KIRO 7 that 31 patients were affected and that the destruction happened in 2014.
However, the mistake was not known publicly until one of the couples recently filed a complaint for damages in King County Superior Court.
Even though they are identified by name in their lawsuit, the couple now suing the UWMC and the State of Washington asked KIRO 7 to keep their identities private.
So their attorneys spoke about their loss.
“When these embryos are developed, they’re like extensions of themselves,” Jane Morrow of Otorowski Morrow & Golden PLLC on Bainbridge Island recently said. According to Morrow, the plaintiffs felt their frozen embryos were “living beings.”
“To have them destroyed without their consent, without their knowledge, it was devastating for this couple.”
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According to the lawsuit, the written agreement between the couple and the UW Medical Center specified the couple would relinquish all control of their frozen embryos "if they have not remained in contact with the IVF program for a period of three years." The female patient reportedly had contact with the UWMC in June of 2012.
Two years later "without notice and/or warning, UWMC discarded and/or destroyed (the patients') cryopreserved embryos," according to the lawsuit, which cites medical negligence, negligence and breach of contract.
The complaint also includes portions of a 2017 letter reportedly sent to the couple by the UWMC that reads "the reason your embryos were discarded is that they were mistakenly considered abandoned based on lack of contact with the IVF program per national guidelines, however, we subsequently realized that you actually had been in contact prior to the embryos being discarded."
Morrow’s co-counsel, Heather Moore Paradis, believes that letter is evidence the UWMC should be held accountable for the embryos’ destruction.
“This couple entrusted their embryos to the University of Washington believing that their embryos, their precious assets, would be treated with the highest degree of ethics and care,” Moore Paradis told KIRO 7. “They are heartbroken that the same institution that would work alongside them all these years to help them create life would be the same institution that would take them away.”
News of the mistaken destruction of embryos by the University of Washington comes months after equipment failures at fertility centers in San Francisco and Ohio may have destroyed thousands of eggs and embryos.
Katie Miller, who has embryos stored at the San Francisco clinic -- called Pacific Fertility -- said “it’s a real shock because you put so much faith in the process.”
Natalia Bergman's frozen embryos were apparently lost during transfer from one Irvine, California clinic to another. When it came time to implant them, the vial was empty.
“We’re left with nothing,” Bergman told a reporter. “Those were our final embryos. Financially, we can’t move forward with anything else.”
Her husband, Randall Bergman, said, "We don’t know if another person who was at this facility has had our baby. We just don’t know.”
However, the UWMC patients do know what happened to their embryos; they were destroyed. According to Mankowski, “Thirty-one patients were affected and we reached out to all of them.”
The plaintiffs’ attorneys told KIRO 7, the UWMC’s apology isn’t enough. The purpose of their lawsuit is to make sure “safeguards be put into place that protect families now and protect families in the future,” Morrow said.
The University of Washington Medical Center declined KIRO 7’s requests for an on-camera interview.
Instead, Mankowski emailed the following statement:
"When we learned what happened with the (plaintiffs’) embryos, we reached out to them to apologize, hear their concerns, and offer our support. Since the occurrence of this event in 2014, we have developed new processes for managing the storage of embryos and instituted procedures and protocols that prevent similar events. Because this case is in litigation, we are not at liberty to share any additional information."
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