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Return Of Embryos To Fertility Patient

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Rose Wall today released a report finding a fertility clinic in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (the Code) for failing to return a woman’s embryos to her as she had requested.

A woman and her husband had embryos in storage at the fertility clinic, and were informed that the storage of their embryos was due to expire. They were given three options - to discard the frozen material immediately and stop paying storage fees; to continue to store the embryos and not apply for an extension of storage; or to apply for an extension to continue to store the embryos.

The woman chose to have the embryos discarded from storage, and completed the "Consent to Discard Frozen Embryos" form. She selected the option to collect the embryos from the clinic within 14 days of notification, and told HDC that she and her husband planned to take the embryos to her mother’s grave.

The embryos were removed from storage after the 10-year expiry date. However, there is no evidence that the woman was contacted to collect them. They were subsequently disposed of by the fertility clinic.

Deputy Commissioner Rose Wall was satisfied that the woman was given the right to make a decision about the return or disposal of the embryos. However, the lack of an effective system at the fertility clinic resulted in the failure by the fertility clinic to return the embryos as requested. Ms Wall considered that the fertility clinic needed a more effective system in place to ensure that the important step of contacting patients once their reproductive material was ready for collection was not missed.

"The return of her embryos was clearly of significant importance to [the woman], and her wishes should have been respected," said Ms Wall. "This did not occur, and was an undeniable omission by the fertility clinic."

Ms Wall recommended that the fertility clinic undertake an audit of 30 "Consent to discard" forms to confirm that consumer’s requests were acted upon and further update its laboratory procedures to document correspondence with patients advising that reproductive material was ready for collection or couriering. She also recommended that the clinic provide its staff with training on the updated procedures, and provide the woman and her husband with a written apology.

The full report for case 19HDC02186 is available on the HDC website.

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