Calls for more penalties after embryo mix-up

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am


An embryo mix-up by a reproductive treatment centre has spurred calls for more penalties for clinics or hospitals in breach of the rules.

Victory A.R.T. Laboratory kept its licence after two embryos were transferred into the wrong woman, as the Council on Human Reproductive Technology accepted the error was human rather than systematic.

Council chairman Gregory Leung Wing-lup said the council was empowered to suspend licences indefinitely, but could not impose more lenient punishments such as fines or temporary suspensions. He said the council would seek legal advice to see if regulations could be amended to give the council such rights. The council would hold a meeting this week to discuss this issue.

But a lawmaker said the council could have done more, even with its limited capacity. Pan-democrat Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who chaired the Legislative Council committee that studied the Human Reproductive Technology Bill, said the council could have publicly condemned Victory. 'Public condemnation is a form of punishment that does not require empowerment by the law,' she said. 'I am sorry that the council did not spell that out in an open statement.'

Regulation of reproductive treatment centres is becoming more important, as more Hong Kong people seek their help. Last year, 8,668 people underwent reproductive technology procedures, according to the council's 2010 annual report.

That was almost double the 4,968 patients in 2009.

One of the operators of the centre spoke publicly for the first time about the mix-up yesterday. Anthony Wong Shun-yun, one of the centre's licensees, said it 'was discovered within three minutes'. On July 8, a junior embryologist failed to check the labels of the embryos and they were transferred into the wrong woman through in vitro fertilisation. 'The embryologist was in a hurry and did not double check,' he said on a morning radio show. 'Another colleague should have checked the label again, but she was not around.'

Wong said shortly after the transfer, another embryologist discovered that two of the embryos she was responsible for were lost. She reported the error to a doctor, who immediately retrieved the embryos. Wong said the embryologist who made the mistake had been reassigned to other duties, but he maintained that their employees received adequate training.

He said the firm discussed compensation with the woman who underwent surgery and the embryos' owner. He said counselling would be offered to the women, and checks would now be done by two people.