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Health Ministry ends search for parents of mistaken embryo, won’t shutter ward

Ministry chief says Assuta’s fertility ward to reduce operations by 50%; search called off for biological parents after potential couple dismissed by genetic testing

Health Ministry Director Prof. Nachman Ash (left) and Dr. Hadar Mizrahi hold a press conference about the Health Ministry's investigation into the case of a pregnant woman who was mistakenly inseminated with a fetus that was not genetically hers, near Tel Aviv, November 27, 2022. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director Prof. Nachman Ash (left) and Dr. Hadar Mizrahi hold a press conference about the Health Ministry's investigation into the case of a pregnant woman who was mistakenly inseminated with a fetus that was not genetically hers, near Tel Aviv, November 27, 2022. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Sunday it was halting its search for the biological parents of an embryo that was mistakenly implanted in the wrong mother. It also said it would not close the fertility ward at the hospital where the error was made.

Following a hearing for the insemination unit at Assuta Medical Center in Rishon Lezion, the ministry announced that it had decided not to close the fertility ward, but will demand it trim its operations by 50 percent — from 10,000 fertilization treatments a year to 5,000.

“We considered closing fertility treatments at Assuta Rishon Lezion, but won’t do so,” Health Ministry Director Nachman Ash told reporters. “The price that would be borne by the many people receiving treatment there would be too high.”

The mix-up became a local media sensation. After tests showed a potential couple were not the biological parents of the baby, the ministry “made the decision not to continue the search for the parents,” Ash added.

The mother who carried the baby has said she wants to keep it, and had previously vowed to fight any attempt to remove her custody. The error was discovered shortly before the baby was born in October.\

Any couple that wishes to check a claim for parenthood of the baby will now need to appeal to the court system to do so.

Assuta said in a statement it accepted the ministry’s ruling and has already instituted improvements to the ward. It said technological solutions will soon take any guesswork out of identifying embryos’ parents.

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

A group of patients treated at Assuta and who have become concerned with the level of care there since the story broke slammed the ministry following the decision for “giving full backing to a hospital that seemingly acts with shocking negligence.

“We demand that the Health Ministry stops its deafening silence. Speak to us and explain to us what is happening, give us answers for all the tough questions for which we still haven’t received a reply,” the group said in a statement.

A former hospital employee anonymously claimed in September that she had 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, though the hospital distanced itself from his claims.

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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