DNA test kits revealed Cincinnati fertility clinic used stranger's sperm

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A central Ohio family is suing a Cincinnati fertility clinic, hospital and lab, saying that DNA kits purchased as Christmas gifts revealed that a 24-year-old daughter was not biologically related to her father and may have been fathered by a hospital physician.

In the lawsuit expected to be filed Wednesday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Jennifer and Joseph Cartellone of Delaware, Ohio, and their daughter Rebecca Cartellone, of Dublin, Ohio, name the Institute for Reproductive Health, the Christ Hospital and Ovation Fertility Cincinnati.

Paternity tests confirmed that Mr. Cartellone is not the biological father of his daughter, who had purchased ancestry.com DNA kits last Christmas, says the suit, filed by the Cleveland arm of the Peiffer Wolf Carr and Kane law firm.

“Never in my worst nightmare did I think that the Christmas gift of DNA testing for my family would unveil this kind of abuse of our trust by the very professionals from whom we sought help,” Joseph Cartellone said in a prepared statement. “This has been extremely difficult for my family. I want to do whatever it takes to make sure no one else has to go through what we did.”

The lawsuit says that the facilities have refused to make amends and alleges breach of contract, battery, negligence, negligent misrepresentation and other charges related to breach of promise and failure in safekeeping the couple’s eggs and sperm. The family seeks financial damages and an order requiring the facilities to provide the identity of the donor who fathered Rebecca Cartellone.

The Peiffer Wolf firm says the suit represents the latest in a string of fertility center mishaps from Los Angeles to Cleveland and that such centers face little regulation in the U.S. resulting in a “Wild West” atmosphere.

“Meaningful oversight is absent, error reporting is essentially voluntary, and tragic cases of lost, destroyed or otherwise improperly handled embryos are on the rise, including more than 5,000 embryos and eggs known to have been lost or destroyed in less than two years,” the firm says in a news release.

“This tragedy should never have happened,” attorney Joseph Peiffer, a managing partner at Peiffer Wolf, said in a statement. “Only through further litigation and sensible regulation can such nonsense be stopped. We need accountability for big fertility.”

The lawsuit being filed Wednesday says the Cartellone family suffered significant emotional trauma.

“The Defendants’ breach of their promise to use Joseph’s sperm to create the embryo devastated Plaintiffs’ understanding of their own identities and of their family,” the suit says. “… The biological bond that they believed to have existed was a lie.

“… They are tormented with questions concerning whether Joseph’s sperm was used for another customer at the Institute and the potential implications (moral, ethical, economic, and otherwise) from that unknown and unauthorized use.”

The couple, in 1993, had reached out to the Institute for Reproductive Health and Christ Hospital due to difficulties conceiving. They chose to receive in vitro fertilization, through which a woman’s egg is retrieved and fertilized by sperm outside the uterus before being placed back in the womb. The IVF was obtained through the hospital and performed by the institute, which was a hospital affiliate at the time, and the suit says a promise was made that Mr. Cartellone’s sperm would be used to create the couple’s embryos.

Adam Wolf, a partner at Peiffer Wolf, said the U.S. should look to the United Kingdom, where a national agency licenses, sets standards for and inspects fertility clinics.

“My law firm has represented hundreds of families and individuals who have had their hopes and dreams dashed by outrageous conduct of the U.S. fertility industry,” he said in a statement. “We think of fertility clinics as highly professional organizations governed by strict rules and staffed by caring experts. But, the truth is some of them are simply business people making billions of dollars in profits.”

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@JoAnneViviano