While many people have utilized assisted reproductive technology in the hopes of conceiving either now or in the future, the method of cryopreservation and storage of one’s embryos, sperm or eggs (also known as oocytes) has become especially relevant due to recent litigation. Cryopreservation can take on many facets, but for the purposes of assisted reproductive technology and the pending litigation, cryopreservation is when a facility stores embryos, sperm or eggs at the requisite temperatures, whether it be a cool temperature or a sub-zero temperature, for an individual or couple’s future use.
The phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” took on new meaning for about forty individuals opting to cryopreserve and store their sperm at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. These individuals suffer from serious illnesses or are undergoing medical treatment that would likely render them infertile. Cryopreservation and storage of their sperm were these patients only real hope of ever having biological children.
However, in April 2012, based on lawsuits filed by Corboy & Demetrio, the cryopreservation and storage procedures at Northwestern allegedly failed and therefore deprived these patients of their only hope of having biological children one day. Northwestern claims the accident was the result of equipment failure, but is it possible that this very scenario could have been avoided? What questions can someone ask to avoid a possible storage malfunction in the future? Here are just a few key points and questions that should be asked of these types of facilities:
- Does the procedure use state-of-the-art vapor phase liquid nitrogen tanks that are not dependent on a power source?
- What happens to the frozen samples in case of a power outage or natural disaster, such as flood or fire?
- How are the frozen samples protected against damage from disasters or equipment failure?
- What warning systems are in place if a storage tank is defective or a sample is in danger?
- Is there any danger to the frozen samples if the power goes out for a long period of time?
- Are all the samples stored in the same tank or distributed among various tanks?
Given technological advances in cryopreservation, coupled with many individuals delaying marriage and family well past the age of thirty, cryopreservation has become an insurance policy for having a biological child in case of future infertility. The incident at Northwestern Hospital, whether it was in fact the fault of the Hospital or not, illustrates the importance of asking the right questions of the fertility clinic that will harvest and store the embryos, sperm or eggs harvested. While no facility can guarantee against natural disasters or defective equipment, these are a few of the basic questions that an individual should ask when searching for a fertility clinic. Keep in mind that these questions are not meant to be exclusive to the entire legal process and all the questions that should be asked – these are merely the introduction questions regarding a facility’s cryopreservation and storage procedures.