- Months after birth, a DNA test revealed a couple’s baby wasn’t biologically related to them.
- They’re suing their fertility clinic for mixing up embryos and causing irreparable trauma.
- The couples have swapped the children they began raising for their biological children.
A Los Angeles couple is suing their fertility clinic after an embryo mixup led them to carry and begin raising another couple’s child while that couple – complete strangers – carried and began raising theirs.
The nightmare robbed both sets of parents of the experience of being pregnant with, delivering, and bonding with their biological babies in the early months, the lawsuit claims. At the same time, it forced them to lose a child they loved as their own.
The lawsuit names 10 complaints, including medical malpractice, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The saga reflects an industry that’s less regulated than barber shops and nail salons, the law firm representing the couple says. The couple and their lawyer spoke to reporters Monday. The doctor and clinic they’re suing did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Alexander says he knew right away something was amiss
Alexander Cardinale expected to feel joy when his second daughter was born in September 2019. He and his wife Daphna had been trying for years to complete their family, and they underwent in vitro fertilization, including one failed cycle, to finally conceive.
The couple said they trusted their fertility clinic, California Center for Reproductive Health, and doctor, Dr. Eliran Mor, who came recommended by friends.
But when their baby was born, Alexander couldn’t help but notice her darker complexion and jet-black hair. “I immediately felt shaken, confused as to why I didn’t recognize her,” he said during the press conference. Over time, both his love and suspicion grew. “It was truly my hell,” he said.
About two months later, a DNA test revealed that their baby was not genetically related to either parent.
They didn’t know where their own embryo was and if it too had become a baby, or what that meant for the baby they had raised as their own. “I think the biggest fear in all of this is, ‘Am I going to lose my baby?'” Daphne said in a video.
Weeks after alerting CCRH, the clinic told them it had discovered another couple had carried and begun raising their biological daughter. The couples, then strangers, had to go to court to legally swap the babies back.
“Our memories of childbirth will always be tainted by the sick reality that our biological child was given to someone else, and the baby that I fought to bring into this world was not mine to keep,” Daphna said through tears during the press conference.
The Cardinales are now suing CCRH, Beverly Sunset Surgical Associates, In VitroTech Labs, Inc., and Mor. The couple didn’t know Mor owns VitroTech Labs, Inc., and had been “self-dealing from one company to the other” despite the company’s “sordid alleged history of mixing up, mislabeling, and/or losing customers’ genetic material,” a press release issued by the couples’ lawyers says.
The effect on the Cardinale’s older daughter has been devastating, they said
Before the embryo mixup, the Cardinale’s older daughter Olivia, now 7, was “my little buddy … my shadow,” Daphna said.
But after they couple had to explain to her that her little sister was not in fact her sister and could no longer live with them, she’s “retreated,” Alexander said. “She doesn’t let us hug and kiss her a lot.”
“She lost trust that she was going to be taken care of,” Daphna said. “Like if we can mess up something so big, like this, how could she possibly be safe?” While they are trying to support her and get her as much help as she can, Daphna said she’s worried she’ll never trust again.
“My heart breaks for her perhaps the most.”
This is not the first case of an embryo mixup
In 2019, a New York City couple sued LA-based CHA Fertility Center after they unknowingly carried two other couples’ boys to term. The babies, thought to be twins, did not appear to be Asian like the couple, and it turned out they weren’t biologically related to them or to each other.
After years of infertility struggles preceding the conception, the couple relinquished the babies to their respective biological parents.
Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway, the firm representing the Cardinales, says it’s handled hundreds of cases of fertility center misconduct, ranging from misplaced embryos to doctors using their own sperm in IVF treatment without consent.
In 2019, the firm pushed for national legislation for better oversight of IVF and fertility clinics, which it said are less regulated than barbershops and hair salons.
There’s no one government agency that oversees the fertility industry, which includes close to 500 clinics and centers. That means no one is managing how fertility centers label tissue such as embryos or disciplining centers that don’t comply with professional guidelines, NBC News reported.
Still, a measure of self-regulation comes from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, a nonprofit with member organizations that it said are required to advertise truthfully, accurately report outcomes, and work with nationally accredited labs. SART has said that some 90% of assisted-reproductive-technology clinics in the US belong to it.
The two couples now spend holidays and birthdays together
Because the Cardinales and the other couple were both losing and gaining a child at the same time, they’ve tried to forge a family with one another and stay in close touch. It was hard at first, Alexander said, because “how do you just become family with total strangers?”
It was also difficult, and sometimes impossible, during COVID-19 lockdowns since the babies were exchanged in January 2020, they said. But the families agreed to be in each others’ bubbles, and have been sharing holidays and birthdays together since.
“They are lovely people,” Daphna said. Adam Wolf, their lawyer, told reporters the other couple will be filing their own lawsuit in the coming weeks, but are keeping their identity private.
Meantime, the Cardinales have bonded with their biological daughter, now 2, saying she’s “amazing.” “She’s definitely our baby,” Daphne said. “There’s just this … gap.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story used the wrong acronym for CCRH. Another fertility center, CCRM, is not involved in the case.