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Israeli IVF clinic imported embryos with serious genetic disease, probe reveals

A joint months-long undercover investigation by the Health Ministry and the Israel Police’s fraud division in Tel Aviv revealed that medical staff at an in vitro fertilization clinic imported fertilized human eggs from Georgia affected with the serious genetic disease hemophilia B.

The medical staff allegedly knew that the embryos were affected yet implanted them in several Israeli women undergoing IVF treatment.

According to information released Monday by the Health Ministry, the case began with an internal investigation within the ministry when it received reports that the eggs of donors carrying the genetic mutation for hemophilia B were fertilized at the BIRTH clinic in Georgia and imported to Israel.

  • Hemophilia B, also called factor IX (FIX) deficiency or Christmas disease, is a genetic disorder caused by missing or defective factor IX, a clotting protein. The disease is generally passed genetically from parent to child, although one-third of cases happen spontaneously.
  • Hemophilia B causes people to bleed longer than usual. Bleeds can occur internally, in joints and muscles, or externally, from minor cuts, dental procedures, or trauma. The amount of FIX in a person’s blood determines whether their hemophilia and chances for bleeding are minor, moderate, or serious.

After conducting its investigation, the Health Ministry brought its findings to the police. The police’s Tel Aviv fraud unit followed up with an undercover investigation supported by the police’s intelligence division, the Health Ministry, and the State Attorney’s office.

The investigation pointed to two people working at an unnamed IVF clinic who, on several occasions, imported fertilized eggs for implantation in Israeli women in recent months.

It is suspected that medical staff both in Georgia and Israel knew that the embryos were affected.

  • The Health Ministry ordered an immediate halt to the importation of fertilized eggs from the clinic in Georgia. It also ordered the heads of all IVF clinics in Israel to work to identify Israeli women for whom the embryos were imported and engage them in making informed decisions about how they want to proceed.

The suspects were to undergo further questioning Monday and were to be brought before the magistrate’s court in Tel Aviv for a request by prosecutors to keep them in custody if necessary.

This follows several recent scandals relating to Israelis seeking to start or grow their families by IVF, the most notorious involving the 2022 birth of a baby girl to parents with no genetic relationship to her.

That mix-up, at Rishon Lezion’s Assuta Medical Center, was discovered when the then-in-utero fetus was determined to have medical problems and consequently underwent a variety of tests. The results showed that neither the woman carrying the child nor her partner could be the biological parents.

The biological parents of the baby were identified last year after a series of genetic tests, the Rishon Lezion Family Court revealed in early March.

Unlike the current case of alleged fraud, the error was ascribed to staff overwork and failure to follow protocol.

Source: TOI