Embryo swap in Italy: recourse to DNA testing

Publié le : 18 April 2014

 Following the embryo swap between two couples during an in-vitro fertilisation procedure at the Sandro-Pertini Hospital in Rome (Gènéthique press review on April 14th, 2014), the General Directorate of Rome’s Department of Social Security announced that “all former patients of the Pertini Hospital who underwent artificial fertilisation could have a DNA test“. 

In response to this case, Dr. Patrizio Bernini, psychiatrist and former Head of Department in a Rome hospital announced: “This matter doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. In Italy, health care is on a downward spiral. Public hospitals are being shut down and agreements are being made with the private sector. Italian Health Care is in the hands of lobbyists“. He added that although prenatal tests “were routinely carried out, there could still be some surprises in store in terms of IVF.

The General Directorate of the Department of Social Security went on to add that the stem cells of twins subjected to the tests and the results obtained would be compared to the DNA of the other three couples who underwent an IVF procedure on the same day. The aim? “To check that both twins have identical genetic material” and “to identify the real parents“. But the physicians’ Daily added that these tests “may not prove anything in legal terms” since Italian law governing IVF stipulates that donors cannot claim their paternity. 

On 16 April, a complaint was filed by one of the four mothers involved.  She lost an embryo following a miscarriage and asked for her DNA and that of her husband to be compared with that of the twins.  She told her lawyer: “On the day of the procedure, the nurse called me. Ten minutes later, she excused herself saying she had mixed up patients because my surname was similar to that of another woman who was also undergoing IVF treatment on the same day“. 
Dr. Patrizio Bernini is also concerned about the psychological consequences of this kind of error for couples and the unborn children: “What would happen if you had to explain [to the child] that his/her parents underwent IVF treatment to conceive him/her and that the doctors mixed up the test tubes?” 

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