Fertility Clinic Errors

This one’s got everything it takes to soak up public attention: race, healthcare, and paternity. It’s like a perfect storm. Add in the word “lawsuit” and you’ve got everything a good scandal needs.

The story is about a couple suing a New York fertility clinic for a sperm mixup that resulted in a baby racially unlike its supposed parents.

As one faithful reader of this blog asked, “Is this a business ethics issue, or a bioethics issue, or are the parents just being jerks?”

Here’s the story as reported by one NBC affiliate: Fertility Clinic Sued Over Too-Dark Baby

After they saw a baby girl they had gone to a fertility clinic to conceive, her parents became convinced something was wrong, according to court papers.
The girl’s skin was darker than either parent’s, a judge wrote in allowing the parents to proceed with a lawsuit that claims the clinic botched the insemination of the wife’s eggs.

The title of the story obviously refers to the fact that the reason the girl’s paternity came into question in the first place is that she’s darker skinned than either parent. But the point here isn’t that the clinic gave the parents a black baby. The point is that the clinic did such sloppy work that they gave the couple a baby that’s not related to her own supposed father. (The parents have actually tried to sue both for malpractice and for emotional distress, etc. The court is proceeding with the former, but not the latter.)

Now, certain corners of the web have been awash in commentary about the parents being jerks. And it’s easy enough to sympathize with that conclusion. It might not exactly be great for this kid to know she was at the centre of this kind of controversy. The girl (whom the parents say they love dearly) is too young to understand now, but she’ll understand eventually. (Paging Dr. Phil…!)

But we shouldn’t let that distract us from the fact that the clinic was seriously sloppy and completely botched the job they were paid to do. They should be held accountable. It seems unlikely that we want fertility clinics to be the only commercial entitites that still get to resort to the old standard of “caveat emptor.” Are the parents supposed to not hold the clinic accountable, out of fear for this little girl’s dignity?

Of course, this double-bind is fodder for the folks who argue against the commodification of fertility services. “Tsk, tsk, parents! You wouldn’t have unseemly little binds like this, if you weren’t out buying babies to start with.” I’m not saying that would be my conclusion, but this case is a pretty good example of a few of the consequences of commercializing repro-medicine. At very least, this stuff ought to be foreseen & dealt with preemptively.

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