A central Ohio family has filed a lawsuit against three Cincinnati fertility service and health providers after learning some stunning results from a recent DNA test.
When their 24-year-old daughter Rebecca had an idea for a DNA testing kit last December, Joseph Cartellone says he and his wife Jennifer were excited about it.
"And so it was literally just, wouldn't it be fun to get our DNA workup and see who's connected and how far the generations go back," Cartellone recalled. "I'm of Italian heritage. Our records don't go back very far. It would have been neat to do that. It couldn't have been more innocent and more shocking."
Cartellone family attorney Joseph Peiffer picks up the story from there.
"Rebecca Cartellone learned from a home DNA kit, a Christmas gift, that Joseph Cartellone was not her biological father," Peiffer said. "Instead, her actual biological father may have been a doctor at the Cincinnati hospital. How could this happen? Through remarkable strength and perseverance, the Cartellone family has traced the likely biological father to one of a handful of individuals, one of whom worked at the hospital. This is a massive betrayal of trust."
The Cartellone's filed the lawsuit claiming breach of contract, battery, and negligence against Institute for Reproductive Health, The Christ Hospital, and Ohio Fertility Providers, currently under the brand Ovation Fertility Cincinnati. According to the complaint, the embryo transfer took place February 15, 1994. Rebecca's birth came later that year. The family seeks compensatory damages to be determined at trial and wants the defendants to explain what happened and identify the donor. Joseph Cartellone also wants lawmakers to take a closer look at the $2 billion industry.
"I've learned that we are not alone in suffering tragedy at the hands of a fertility clinic," Cartellone said. "Our story is just one example of the many abuses by the fertility clinic industry, and that just infuriates me. We keep asking why hasn't someone done something about this already. We're talking about the creation of life. There needs to be stronger oversight and controls put in place. These clinics need to be held accountable, and they need to suffer real consequences for their actions."
Among the regulatory suggestions from the law firm Peiffer, Wolf, Carr & Kane - licensing of embryology labs, mandatory and tougher federal inspections, and a more robust record keeping system. That firm is also litigating last year's large-scale embryo losses at University Hospitals in Cleveland and Pacific Fertility Clinic in San Francisco. Attorney Adam Wolf says he receives calls on a daily basis regarding instances of fertility misconduct. As for the Cartellone case, it's about finding answers.
"No amount of money will ever make this right," Wolf said. "Nothing that the court can do right now will put Joe and Jennifer Cartellone in a place where their daughter is biologically related to both of them. There are a number of things we want to do through this case. One is to ensure that there's accountability to the fertility center. How did this happen, so that we can try to ensure that it never happens again. And also see what we can learn about whose sperm was used to create Becca and where Joe's Cartellone's sperm went. Is there another child walking around this Earth that's related to Joe Cartellone? We don't know that answer."
Attempts to reach the three entities named in the lawsuit for comment were unsuccessful although one issued the following statement - "While we are evaluating the allegations surrounding events alleged to have occurred in the early 1990's, it is the Christ Hospital Health Network's practice to not publicly comment on pending litigation."
Another statement came from Ovation that read:
“Ovation® Fertility has been contacted regarding a lawsuit that has been filed against the Institute for Reproductive Health and Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, related to services provided in 1994.
Ovation Fertility was established in 2015 and acquired a different IVF laboratory than the one implicated in this lawsuit, from the Institute for Reproductive Health, in 2018.
We therefore have absolutely no knowledge of any action that may or may not have occurred in the Christ Hospital’s IVF laboratory 25 years ago.”
Statement from The Institute for Reproductive Health:
"The Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) is aware of the media coverage regarding a mix-up in a different and unaffiliated Cincinnati IVF lab. Our hearts go out to the family affected. We want to assure our current and former patients that the alleged incident did not involve either IRH or our IVF laboratory, neither of which existed at the time. The alleged incident occurred in 1994, at The Christ Hospital and Christ Hospital’s Laboratory. The Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) and its IVF Laboratory were not formed until 1999. Because this alleged incident occurred in the Christ Hospital’s laboratory, before our practice and laboratory existed, we cannot comment on what may or may not have occurred in their laboratory. IRH is a practice group of reproductive endocrinologists and is a completely separate entity from Christ Hospital. The roles of a reproductive endocrinologist and an IVF laboratory’s andrologists and embryologists are separate. Embryology procedures are performed in a distinct laboratory during all IVF processes. Our physicians are not involved in the fertilization of eggs with sperm, as this process is handled by embryologists in the IVF laboratory.
IRH has stringent protocols in place to verify patient identity and maintain the chain of custody of all specimens involved in the IVF process. Our lab protocols have been inspected and accredited by College of American Pathologists (CAP), Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA), the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) in order to ensure the highest level of care for our patients. We take very seriously the trust and faith that our patients have in our practice, and we will continue to provide the highest quality individualized care."