February 24, 2023
BEIJING – Experts have called for improving legislation related to assisted reproductive technologies after a recent case in which the parents of a boy discovered that the mother had been impregnated with the wrong embryo sparked heated discussions online.
The couple in Hefei, Anhui province, underwent fertility treatment at the First Affiliated Hospital of Anhui Medical University in 2010, which led to the wife becoming pregnant in 2011.However, her husband discovered through genetic testing in 2020 that neither he nor his wife had any biological connection to their 8-year-old child, according to media reports.
The father took the hospital to court. On Nov 7, the court ruled during the first hearing that the hospital had failed to clearly label frozen embryos and properly record the steps involved in the thawing of embryos. The hospital was ordered to shoulder full responsibility and pay the family 640,000 yuan ($93,000) in compensation.
The incident prompted heated discussions online, with some netizens calling for the hospital to face harsher punishment because of the heartbreak and distress caused by their mistake.
Xu Bo, a lawyer with Jingsh Law Firm, said that in addition to paying compensation, the hospital will likely be ordered to halt operation and pay fines to local healthcare authorities for medical malpractice.
“The psychological dilemma under such a circumstance for the parents is deeply distressing,” he said. “However, it will be difficult to press criminal charges because the mistake was not intentional.”
As more couples in China have resorted to in vitro fertilization technology and other fertility therapies to have babies in recent years, experts said relevant legislation should be enhanced to prevent disputes.
According to the National Health Commission, the assisted reproductive technology sector has developed rapidly in China, leading to 300,000 births annually.
From 2016 to mid-2021, the number of medical institutions approved to perform fertility treatment procedures had grown from 451 to 539, and the number of medical institutions with a sperm bank had increased from 23 to 27.
Qiao Jie, president of Peking University Third Hospital, said that the commission has set up an expert panel for managing the field of fertility treatment. Experts are asked to regularly examine and assess medical institutions involved in providing such services.
The commission said in July that it has released a number of regulations in recent years, asking local governments to establish a regular supervision system over fertility treatment providers, roll out random examinations and suspend those found to have committed serious malpractice.
Xu, the lawyer, said that with the rise of a variety of disputes associated with the procedures, such as recklessly disclosing information of egg or sperm donors or mixing up embryos, oversight over medical institutions should be intensified.
“The amount of liability compensation should also be clarified,” he said. “In vitro fertilization is costly and often puts enormous pressure on females.”
Wang Yue, a medical law and ethics professor at Peking University, said during an interview with media outlet Cover.cn, that a criminal charge for a medical error can only be pursued when the malpractice results in the deaths of patients or seriously harms their health.
Although the incident in Hefei did not cause death or disability, it exerted great harm on families, therefore further legislation should be in place so that criminal investigation can be conducted for such situations, Wang said.