Court orders genetic test to identify biological parents in embryo mix-up

If a match is found, a legal process will determine who receives custody over the baby, due within days; woman carrying embryo has so far refused such tests

Illustrative image: A lab in an IVF clinic. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Illustrative image: A lab in an IVF clinic. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

An Israeli court ruled Wednesday that a genetic test be conducted to identify the biological parents of a fetus mistakenly implanted in a woman who was not its mother during fertility treatments at Rishon Lezion’s Assuta Medical Center.

The Lod District Court said a genetic test must be conducted “immediately.” The child is due within days.

The test will use tissues previously obtained and sent by Assuta to Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv and will thus pose no danger to the woman carrying the embryo.

If a match is found, the court said, a legal process will follow to determine who receives custody over the newborn. If the test fails to find a definite match, the hospital will need to test some 40 potential women in order to identify the embryo’s biological mother with certainty.

The court ruling is the latest development in the ongoing case, which appears to be unprecedented in Israel.

The woman carrying the embryo has so far refused a genetic test to identify the embryo’s biological parents, with some claiming it was a way to stall until the baby is born, when it would be more difficult, legally, to take it away from her.

Assuta Medical Center in Rishon Lezion. (Screen capture: Google Maps)

The pregnant woman and her husband, identified only by the Hebrew initials “Ayin” and “Alef,” have said they plan on raising the baby as their own, indicating that a legal battle could ensue between them and the embryo’s biological parents.

“It’s crazy. We just can’t believe it, especially my wife. Naturally, she responded to it, saying, ‘No way. It’s hers, and this is impossible. They can’t take [the baby] away,’” the father said in an interview with Channel 12 last month.

Assuta Medical Center said last month it had narrowed the list of possible mothers from 40 to 10, and that one individual it believes with a high probability is the fetus’s biological mother is not pregnant and has been updated regarding the situation.

Speaking to Channel 12 earlier this month, she said she was devastated by the experience and expressed sympathy for the other woman involved in the mix-up.

“Just the thought that this could be my baby who was mistakenly, terribly mistakenly, implanted into another woman, when my husband and I are in such a complicated and arduous and difficult process of trying to have a child,” she said.

“My heart goes out to that woman [carrying the embryo]. I really identify with her. I wish I could hug her now and cry with her because we are both victims of this terrible mistake that happened,” she added.

Illustrative: A pregnant woman at a hospital. (iStock via Getty Images)

A former hospital employee last month anonymously claimed that she’d witnessed several instances of neglect involving the handling of embryos while working at Assuta, a claim the hospital refused to respond to.

A week later, Assuta’s IVF laboratory manager said that a “certain percentage” of women who undergo in vitro fertilization all over the country carry an embryo that is not their own.

While extremely rare, similar cases have been reported elsewhere.

In November 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported that a woman had given birth to her second daughter, only to discover weeks later that the girl was unrelated to her. In that case, the woman retained custody of the baby girl.

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