A California woman is speaking out against a Beverly Hills fertility clinic that accidentally destroyed her embryos and, according to a lawsuit, devastated her chances of ever having children.
Marisa Yukich, 38, has filed a $7 million lawsuit against ART Reproductive Center, alleging she paid the company to store seven pre-embryos in 2013 but that the clinic destroyed them with little explanation.
Yukich was 36 when she paid the clinic to extract, fertilize, and freeze her eggs “to ensure that she could become pregnant before she turned 40 years old,” her complaint, filed in Los Angeles County, states. In return for an annual fee, ART had promised to store her embryos and donor sperm indefinitely.
But last year, Yukich says, the clinic’s scientific director, David Hill, called her to say the fertilized embryos were discarded by mistake.
Dr. Hill did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment, but referred the request to a public relations firm.
“I was utterly shocked. I started crying and asking questions, such as, ‘Are you sure? How could this happen? Are they all gone?’” Yukich, an executive at an insurance firm, told The Daily Beast. “And he said yes.
“I don’t think you can prepare yourself for that kind of news,” she added. “When I went through this process, it’s the last thing I ever thought would have happened.”
Now Yukich is putting pressure on ART Reproductive Center—a clinic reportedly used by celebrities including Khloe Kardashian and Sofia Vergara. (Last year, Vergara’s ex, Nick Loeb, filed a lawsuit against the clinic in an attempt to prevent the actress from destroying embryos the pair had conceived there.)
Yukich’s lawsuit alleges breach of contract, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is seeking emotional, compensatory, and property damages.
“The whole reason that I have gone so public with this is because I don’t want someone else to have to go through this,” Yukich told The Daily Beast. “So I’m trying to see if I can somehow turn the pain and the sadness into something hopefully good for somebody else.”
She and her attorney, Adam Wolf, created a website, artembryosdestruction.com, with links to video interviews, court papers, and social media accounts dedicated to Yukich’s fight. They also posted footage of the clinic’s building and waiting room.
“This has been a real personal tragedy for Marisa,” Wolf told The Daily Beast. “She quite understandably thought of these embryos as the beginning of her own children, and they were taken away from her. It’s just devastating.”
ART Reproductive Center has issued a statement indicating it offered Yukich the option of having the procedure performed again, at a facility of her choice, for free.
Yukich and Wolf disputed the claim, however, and said ART only offered Yukich $600 for the screw-up.
“Unfortunately, due to a single human error, the first ever in the history of the Center, one patient’s blastocysts were responsibly, yet inadvertently discarded,” the clinic said in a statement. “Immediately upon discovery of the error, the patient was contacted and was honestly and accurately advised of the events.”
ART says Yukich “was also offered at that time—and on a number of occasions since—access to unlimited services to re-create the blastocysts using the identical anonymous donor male genetic material.”
“Regrettably, the patient, rather than taking this opportunity to re-create her lost reproductive material, instead decided to file a lawsuit seeking an enormous amount of money,” ART continued.
Yukich called ART’s statement “insensitive,” and said, “I don’t think they’re in a position to attack me. They took something away from me.”
“They’re in the business of helping people… of making people’s dreams a reality, and they took that from me,” she added.
Before Yukich found ART’s clinic in 2013, she unsuccessfully tried artificial insemination.
Yukich says she was a single, working woman who had focused on her career first. At 36, she knew she wasn’t ready to be pregnant, but that she wanted to have multiple children by the time she was 40.
“When I had seven viable embryos, that could have been two kids or three kids if I wanted,” Yukich told The Daily Beast through tears. “It’s been difficult for me.”
For Yukich, months of appointments and procedures preparing herself for in vitro fertilization would be for naught.
The aspiring mom underwent a “very painful and difficult” surgery to remove an ovarian cyst before ART extracted her eggs, her lawsuit states.
And she paid thousands of dollars for the fertility treatments, which weren’t covered by her insurance carrier.
Yukich finally had surgery to extract her eggs in September 2013 at the Roxbury Surgery Center, which is affiliated with ART and located within its building.
The costs were substantial. Among them were a $1,195 “facility fee” and $1,825 in vitro fertilization and embryology charge. She also paid $1,050 for the cryopreservation of her embryos, and $350 for her first year of pre-embryo storage, the lawsuit states.
According to court papers, Yukich’s cycle of IVF produced 14 eggs, and 10 of those were fertilized. At the end of the process, she had seven viable pre-embryos and one extra vial of sperm from her donor.
In October 2014, ART charged her $500 to store her pre-embryos for another year, court papers say.
Around that time, Yukich decided to discard her extra vial of sperm, and sent ART a notarized authorization of her request. In the form, she underlined the word “sperm” so clinic staff weren’t confused about the fact that she still wanted her embryos preserved, the lawsuit alleges.
Yukich would have no idea those embryos were in danger. One year later, Dr. Hill unexpectedly called Yukich to inform her that ART accidentally destroyed her seven embryos, rather than the sperm sample, court papers state.
According to the lawsuit, Dr. Hill conceded that Yukich’s form “had been very clear that only the sperm was to be destroyed.”
“Presumably, Marisa’s fertilized eggs were improperly destroyed when she returned her form in late 2014; however, no one informed Marisa of the improper destruction until nearly a year later,” the complaint says.
The delay in notification “further eroded Marisa’s chances for successfully replacing the pre-embryos and ultimately eroded her chances for successfully bearing her own children,” her lawsuit continues.
Yet ART has offered little information on what happened behind the clinic’s closed doors, Yukich and Wolf told The Daily Beast. “What's entirely clear is, however it happened, ART lacked the necessary safeguards to prevent this tragedy,” Wolf told The Daily Beast.
Wolf told The Daily Beast that Yukich’s case may be the first of its kind to go to trial. A handful of similar cases nationwide were likely settled.
Indeed, this isn’t the first time a fertility clinic has made headlines over allegedly trashing embryos without a client’s consent.
In 2005, an Illinois couple filed a wrongful-death suit against a Chicago fertility clinic after it accidentally discarded their embryos.
Four years later, a couple sued a San Francisco clinic for allegedly using a different person’s sperm by accident, then destroying the resulting embryos without the couple’s permission.
Other fertility firms have been accused of losing embryos.
In 2009, a Louisiana hospital faced lawsuits after couples’ frozen embryos disappeared, prompting the clinic to indefinitely suspend IVF operations over a “significant labeling issue,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
Another married couple claimed a Santa Monica clinic lost their embryos, which were “most likely” implanted into another woman’s uterus, according to a 2011 lawsuit.
“People need to do a good bit of research on the entities they entrust with something just so important,” Wolf said. “I would like to think our case provides a measure of justice not only for Marisa, but for women around the country.
“Perhaps ART and other centers will have more safeguards going forward.”
Nearly three years older, Yukich believes her chances of beginning the IVF process over again and successfully bearing children have substantially decreased.
She’s unsure she’ll try IVF again. She told The Daily Beast “it’s a little scarier” to use 39-year-old eggs to have kids.
“At the end of the day… I trusted this whole process, and now I don’t trust the process anymore,” Yukich said.