Bioethics News

IVF doctors issue new ethical guidelines for errors

Some IVF clinics are run like “like a 19th-century grocery”, says Art Caplan   

Cases of mix-ups, losses and genetic defects have given IVF clinics and sperm banks a black eye in the past year in the United States. A recent story in the New York Times was headlined “Sperm Banks Accused of Losing Samples and Lying About Donors”. The Times spoke of “a new wave of lawsuits against sperm banks, highlighting claims of deception and negligence, and adding an array of challenges beyond the longstanding issue of undetected genetic problems”.

Quality control has often been poor in the clinics. “Even in New York, when they inspect, they’re looking at hygienic conditions not record-keeping,” said bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of New York University. “Nobody confirms that you have what you say you have… It’s absurd that we have these materials so valuable that people pay to store them, but we run it like a 19th-century grocery. Cryopreservation has historically operated in a casual laissez-faire environment, where people were just supposed to trust.”

Now the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the peak IVF body in the US, has issued non-binding ethical guidelines for its members. It states that clinics are ethically obliged to inform people of mistakes “of respect for patient autonomy and in fairness to patients”. Clinics should inform patients as soon as a mistake is discovered. And clinics should also foster “a culture of truth-telling”.

The temptation to avoid informing patients about mistakes must be great, but the ASRM insists that mistakes must be acknowledged as soon as possible:

“Principles of open and honest communication with patients have special significance in reproductive medicine.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.