Health Ministry orders closure of IVF clinic accused of importing sick embryos

Officials’ surprise visit revealed medical practices ministry says clinic was not licensed for, and that endanger public health

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image: A single sperm is injected directly into an egg as part of IVF (Lars Neumann; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: A single sperm is injected directly into an egg as part of IVF (Lars Neumann; iStock by Getty Images)

The Health Ministry ordered the immediate closure of an IVF clinic in Tel Aviv on Sunday, citing practices there that contravened the law and posed a threat to public health.

The L.B. IVF Clinic has been the subject of a criminal investigation and legal proceedings for several months, with one of its owners accused of fraud for having allegedly knowingly imported embryos from Georgia affected with hemophilia, a serious genetic disease. Some of the embryos had been transferred to patients’ uteruses.

As of mid-March, four women had filed official complaints with the police, including one who gave birth to a child with hemophilia and another who suffered a stillbirth when she was 20 weeks pregnant.

According to a statement issued Sunday by the Health Ministry, the clinic’s closure comes following an unannounced inspection on March 28 by health officials that found conduct in blatant contravention of assisted reproduction laws dating back to the 1970s.

When news of the joint Health Ministry-Israel Police investigation of the clinic emerged in mid-March, the identity of the clinic’s owner charged with fraud and other crimes was withheld. On March 22, the Tel Aviv District Court named the accused as Prof. David Bider, co-director of the clinic.

The initial investigation against Bider and his work at the clinic focused on his importation of the embryos affected by hemophilia B. People with the disease are missing a blood clotting factor, which therefore puts them at high risk for dangerously bleeding longer than usual, which can be life-threatening. The bleeding can occur internally, in joints and muscles, or externally, from minor cuts, dental procedures, trauma, or surgery.

At the time of Bider’s arrest earlier this month, the Health Ministry ordered an immediate halt to the importation of fertilized eggs from the involved fertility clinic in Georgia. However, the ministry did not at that time order the closure of the clinic.

The Health Ministry’s decision to shut down the clinic until further notice is based on a report submitted Sunday by the inspection team. The report stated that the clinic conducts invasive IVF medical procedures without proper authorization, and handles human gametes and fertilized eggs in ways that are permitted only in specifically recognized assisted reproduction hospital departments, appropriately licensed medical labs, or an officially recognized sperm bank.

The government has given the clinic’s owners or their legal representation until April 7 to submit their position in advance of a hearing on the continued closure of the clinic. The clinic owners must abide by the immediate closure order but have three months to appeal to the health minister.

In the meantime, the clinic is ordered to transfer all biological material (eggs, sperm and fertilized eggs) in its possession to accredited hospital IVF departments or IVF labs.

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