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Wrong Embroyo: IVF Mixup Changes Woman's Life

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 15, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Though they were never able to have their fourth child, the IVF mixup that left Carolyn Savage implanted with the wrong embryo has come to an end. She and her husband Sean settled the potential medical malpractice case, but have agreed not to name the clinic.

Early in 2009, Carolyn Savage went to a local fertility clinic for an in vitro fertilization procedure, hoping to have a fourth child. Ten days later, the clinic called and told her there was a mixup: she was pregnant, but they had implanted the wrong embryo. The IVF mixup being a rare occurrence, the story hit national headlines for the way the families involved handled the situation. Carolyn Savage decided to carry the baby to term, relinquishing custody to the baby's biological parents, Shannon and Paul Morell, upon his birth.

Details of how the IVF mixup occurred were finally revealed on Dateline NBC. Shannon Morell's maiden name was Savage, which was how she was identified in clinic files. Additionally, the clinic had entered Carolyn Savage as being born in 1967 as opposed to 1969. When the embryos were defrosted, reports The Detroit News, the misprint caused the embryologist to pull the Morells' embryos--listed under the maiden name of Savage. An information sheet with the Morells' information was then placed in the Savages' file, with Carolyn Savage's name being written on the petri dish, further notes NPR.

The embryologist checked the label on the petri dish against the information in the file, but failed to double check the information sheet, the paper further notes. The information sheet would have indicated that the petri dish held the wrong embryo.

Though they settled, the clerical errors and failure to check the information sheet could have opened the clinic up to a medical malpractice lawsuit. Under the law, medical professionals must adhere to generally accepted principles of action. This means that, in order to fulfill their duties, they must follow protocols that are considered standard in their practice area. In medical offices, it is common practice to ask patients to verify their information--including birthdate--at each appointment. The clinic clearly failed to do this, making the birthdate a potential basis for liability.

It is also common practice for fertility clinics to double check embryos against patient files. The embryologist did check the embryos against the file as a whole, but failed to do so against the information sheet. It is unclear whether this met standard protocol, because checking the file as a whole could be the industry's generally-accepted practice. Expert testimony would have been needed had Carolyn Savage gone to court.

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