Health Ministry summons top Assuta officials over IVF baby mix-ups

Ministry mulls closing hospital’s in vitro fertilization clinic after latest case, sets up team to examine changes to broader IVF system in country

View of Assuta Hospital, Ramat Hahayal, Tel Aviv, May 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ FLASH90)
View of Assuta Hospital, Ramat Hahayal, Tel Aviv, May 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ FLASH90)

The Health Ministry summoned senior officials at the Assuta Medical Center for a hearing Monday, saying that following a series of mix-ups, it is considering shuttering the in vitro fertilization (IVF) department at the hospital’s branch in Tel Aviv.

The development came several days after it was revealed that testing had found that a child born through in vitro fertility treatment in 2018 may not be genetically linked to his father.

The Health Ministry said the summons was also prompted by an incident in which 13 fertilized eggs dried up. The ministry said neither incident was reported to authorities in a timely manner.

“These events and their close proximity, as well as the fact that they weren’t reported to the Health Ministry, raise concerns of harm to public health,” the ministry said in a statement. “Therefore, the option of ordering the full or partial closure of the department is being considered.”

The ministry said it had also appointed a committee to examine the series of incidents and the circumstances that led to the errors, as well as the hospital department’s general rules and practices.

The hearing will be held on Wednesday, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

News of the possible mix-up in the Tel Aviv branch came after, last September, a woman discovered that an embryo of hers had been mixed up at the hospital’s Rishon Lezion branch. She and her husband waged a months-long legal battle to keep the baby, whom she birthed in October but was genetically unrelated to.

The Health Ministry also announced it was mulling changes to broader IVF procedures across the country. Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov appointed a team to examine IVF services and “formulate the necessary policy measures,” it said.

It noted that the decision to establish a team to examine the issue followed discussions and processes that began “even before the recent extraordinary cases that occurred in the two IVF units at the Assuta medical centers.”

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

The ministry is examining IVF treatments at private clinics with a view to transferring their activities to public medical centers instead, it said.

It added that in recent years there has been a sharp increase in IVF treatments at private medical institutes, raising the need “to increase and ensure the mechanisms required to maintain the quality and safety of treatment in this system.”

The ministry said it reached out Monday to private IVF unit managers to examine transferring activities to public units “as soon as possible.” Managers were asked whether, in the short term, they would be able to handle the number of IVF treatments they are facing, it said.

An attorney for the parents who recently found out they may not be genetically related to their child told Walla on Monday that “even before the incident was published in the media, Assuta consulted with a lawyer, so they knew there was a serious problem here and their failure to report it was even more serious.”

Assuta rejected the claims as unfounded.

“There was no decision to not report to the Ministry of Health, and the lawyer’s claims of hushing it up are unfounded and defamatory,” it said in a statement.

The hospital admitted that “in hindsight, Assuta regrets that it did not involve the Health Ministry at the initial speculation stage.”

“Assuta intends to act transparently and in full cooperation with the professionals in the Health Ministry to uncover the truth,” it said.

Last Thursday, the ministry said it was informed of the recent suspected case from a third party, not from Assuta, and was investigating.

The ministry said that the parents and their children underwent medical testing overseas when they were told of the potential mismatch with the father’s DNA.

After the story broke, the hospital said it had received the inquiry from the parents on the issue earlier in the week, but added that the couple did not want to carry out genetic testing to confirm the mix-up. Assuta noted that the genetic test conducted by the parents is not valid in Israel and that it will only cooperate with court-ordered tests, as is the law.

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