Ohio couple is suing fertility clinic over damaged embryos after storage failure

An Ohio couple is suing University Hospitals' Fertility Center in Cleveland after learning their embryos have been damaged because of a storage tank malfunction.

Amber and Elliott Ash filed the lawsuit seeking class action status, which would require approval of a judge.

The Associated Press reported the Ashes stored two embryos at the fertility clinic following Elliott's cancer diagnosis in 2003.

"It's heartbreaking, just heartbreaking," Amber Ash told WEWS-TV. "The medical community calls it tissue. I like to think of it as my children."

According to The Washington Post, a liquid nitrogen storage tank at the clinic located outside Cleveland, where more than 2,000 frozen embryos and eggs are stored, unexpectedly heated up.

“We are so very sorry this happened and we want to do all that we can to support our patients and families through this very difficult time,” Patti DePompei, president of University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and MacDonald Women’s Hospital, said in a video posted on Facebook.


The Ohio lawsuit was filed the same day The Washington Postreported that thousands of frozen embryos and eggs may have been damaged at a San Francisco clinic after a liquid nitrogen failure in a storage tank.

During a routine check, the clinic’s laboratory director discovered that the level of liquid nitrogen in one of the steel storage tanks had fallen too low, which could cause damage to the tissue.

Cal Herbert, president of the Pacific Fertility Clinic, told The Washington Post on Sunday that some 400 patients were contacted over the phone about the failure, which was detected on March 4.

Herbert said patients were emotional when they heard the news. “Anger is a big part of the phone call,” he said.

He went on to say that the eggs and embryos at risk were immediately transferred to a spare storage tank.

Herbert added that the clinic's staff thawed a few eggs and found they remain viable, but they have not checked any of the embryos.


The clinic has not released any information yet about the number of eggs and embryos that have been impacted, but says the malfunctioning tank stored “several thousand” samples, which clinic spokesman Alden Romney said represent about 15 percent of the total stored at the facility.

According to the National Institute of Health, the cost of freezing and storing eggs can be as high as $10,000 per year. The potential emotional impact is just as high, as fertility treatment is often the only chance at conceiving a child for those parents.

A spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a major professional organization, said such large-scale incidents appear to be unprecedented.

“We can’t say definitively nothing like this has ever happened, but we are certainly not aware of anything,” said Sean Tipton, the association’s chief policy, advocacy and development officer, to the Post.

“Now that we have a second incident, it becomes very important that we learn as much as we can about both, to search for commonalities and see if there are . . . risks that have now come to light that need to be addressed,” he said.