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Can Couples Sue for Reproductive Negligence from Fertility Clinics?

Written by Berkowitz


Couples desperate to have a baby might find themselves one day relying on the services of a fertility clinic. Fertility clinics are supposed to be staffed with reproductive specialists, obstetricians, and gynecologists all of who specialize in helping women become pregnant and remain healthy during their pregnancy.

Today, advancements in medical technology make it easier for women to overcome challenges that once kept them from having children. Also, there is an increased number of women using fertility clinics today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.7 percent of infants born in the United States were conceived using assisted reproductive technology (ART), which might include in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The CDC states that the demand for ART services has doubled over the past decade. Just like any other medical field, fertility doctors and their office staff do make preventable mistakes. Sometimes, these mistakes result in very serious injuries and possibly deaths.

Unfortunately, the margin of error in reproductive technology is higher than in other fields of medicine. Couples are desperate to have children, which means they are more willing to pay for expensive treatments (including most that are not covered by insurance). They are also emotionally vulnerable. These factors alone put them at a higher risk of being taken advantage of. And their emotional state means that they rely heavily on these specialists to use technology (that might not be safe) to help them grow their families.

What Reproductive Technology Is the Most Commonly Used in Bridgeport Clinics?

ART services have widened over the past decade. Today, women have a few options for increasing their chances of pregnancy and having a child. A skilled reproductive specialist will examine a woman, run a series of tests, and determine which ART method suits their medical history. Some women can choose between several technologies, while others are only candidates for a single therapy.

The most commonly practiced methods are:

  • Ovulation Induction (OI): Ovulation induction helps women who do not naturally ovulate. Women take hormone-based medications via pill or injection that then stimulates hormone production. Once the follicles are large enough, more hormones are introduced to force egg production and release. Essentially, this process increases the chance of natural conception and is often referred to as “fertility treatments.”
  • Artificial Insemination (AI): Artificial insemination helps women with healthy reproductive organs who are unable to conceive for unknown reasons. The process involves taking the male partner’s sperm and inserting it into the woman’s reproductive region at or right before her scheduled ovulation. Under the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act of 2008, only a licensed physician can perform AI. Physicians will attempt several cycles of AI before moving on to IVF.
  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): IVF helps with conception in women who are not successful with AI or have blocked fallopian tubes. The physician will collect the woman’s eggs and male sperm from a partner or donor. Then, the eggs and sperm are combined in culture, allowing them to fertilize. The specialist then waits for an embryo to develop. If an embryo does develop, it is placed inside the woman’s uterus using an embryo transplant. Sometimes physicians will develop multiple embryos and freeze the remaining ones for later transplants – in case the first fails.

There are several other technologies used to help a woman conceive, but these are the three most commonly used methods and the ones reported in most malpractice lawsuits.

Knowing the Risks and Informed Consent

Like all medical procedures, there are risks involved with artificial reproductive technologies. When you meet with a reproductive specialist, they will inform you of the best procedure and they are required by law to discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives (if any) of that procedure.

You should never consent to treatment without understanding the risks. Likewise, a physician should not perform the procedure without receiving your fully informed consent.

What Are the Common Risks of ART?

ART carries numerous risks, and some risks are higher, depending on the procedure used. Some common risks for these procedures include:

  • Increased risk of multiple births. One study found that there was an increased chance of multiple births with fertility treatments, and it is one of the more common health risks. Some women may not be reproductively healthy enough to handle multiple births, while other times families are not financially prepared for twins, triplets, or more. Multiple births can lead to premature labor, pregnancy loss, and health complications for the mother.
  • Increased risk of cesarean. Whether it is a set of twins or triplets, the risk for a C-section increase when a woman carries more than one baby.
  • The increased health risk to babies. Infants may be at risk for complications from the procedures, too. This includes low birth weight, premature delivery, developmental delays, and disability. In some cases, the child may die.
  • Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). OHSS is a common complication from ovulation induction procedures that enlarge ovaries and causes them to retain fluids and lead to secondary complications. While some of these complications resolve in two weeks, other times they can persist – especially if the woman becomes pregnant. In some instances, women may require hospitalization. One study found that death occurs in approximately three out of 100,000 ART instances from this condition.
  • Potential increased cancer risk. Some treatments use concentrations of hormones, and concerns were raised that these hormones increase a woman’s cancer risk – including ovarian, colon, cervical, breast, and endometrial cancer. Studies have not thoroughly explored this risk, but it is still a concern.
  • Congenital abnormalities in the child. Several studies have reported an increased risk of congenital abnormalities in children conceived using ART methods – with some suggesting an increase of 30 percent. No one is certain if it is the hormones and treatments causing the increased risk, or if it is associated with the subfertility of the mother from the start. Regardless, this is still another statistic mothers should be aware of before consenting to treatment.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies are another common concern for women undergoing ART. Ectopic pregnancies occur when the egg implants outside of the uterus, such as in the ovary. If not caught and treated early, a woman could suffer from severe complications, including death.

These are risks that can occur even when doctors do their job correctly, and there is no documented negligence. In some cases, these risks increase when medical professionals are negligent.

Common, Preventable ART Errors

While the risks mentioned above can occur with or without errors, some errors increase the chances of injury or death. Some common errors include:

  • Destruction or Loss of the Embryos: For women seeking ART, every egg and embryo is precious cargo. When these are handled improperly, they can be lost, accidentally destroyed, or the wrong embryo placed into another woman. These treatments cost thousands of dollars and are not usually covered by insurance. Therefore, families may be eligible for compensation if a fertility center destroys or loses embryos due to negligent practices.
  • Using the Wrong Sperm: Another common error is when a fertility clinic fails to track sperm specimens properly and injects the wrong sperm into the woman or combines the wrong sperm with another patient’s egg.
  • Reduced Fertility from Surgical Errors: Surgical errors during ART or while treating a mother during pregnancy may result in further reduced fertility – rendering her unable to conceive, even with ART intervention in the future.
  • Insufficient Donor Screening: Some women need donor sperm or donor eggs to conceive a child. The fertility clinic using these donor specimens is required to screen them for genetic concerns before using them as implants.
  • Failure to Diagnose Ectopic Pregnancy: Fertility clinics should require their patients to come in regularly for screenings and ensure that an ectopic pregnancy does not develop. Failure to diagnose an ectopic could result in an ovarian or fallopian tube abruption, which can be fatal.

Can I Sue for Reproductive Treatment Negligence?

Determining whether you have a case depends on the factors in your injury claim. Sometimes, claims against a fertility clinic involve medical negligence, while other times it involves violations of health standards required for ART procedures.

These cases are highly delicate and very complicated. Identifying what went wrong, and whether it was a negligent act, requires a trained eye. Medical malpractice attorneys can review your medical records and the outcome of your ART procedure to help determine if you have a case.

In these types of lawsuits, you may be able to recover damages. Furthermore, you may have multiple parties at fault – depending on the situation.

Do You Need an Attorney for a Fertility Treatment Lawsuit?

Fertility treatments require thousands of dollars, planning, and an emotional commitment. It is hard to separate yourself from the legal facts and your emotional ties to the procedures. Therefore, you should consult with an attorney to discuss your options.

Your attorney offers you legal representation if you choose to file a lawsuit. Furthermore, they can provide you with information about your rights and what possibilities you have for remedying your losses.

Contact Berkowitz Hanna today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation.