Lost embryos cause sorrow and lawsuits in Ohio

There’s a complicated set of legal questions facing justices in Ohio due to a cryogenic tank failure — one that happened to be storing 4,000 human eggs and embryos at the time.

The tank was located in the fertility clinic at University Hospital in Cleveland. Many of the eggs belonged to people that hoped to have children in the future — including women that had stored their eggs away before they submitted to radiation treatments for cancer.

In a tragic accident, clinic employees turned off the alarms that would have alerted them to a problem. The temperature of the tank spiked one night for a reason that is still unknown, destroying the fragile genetic material inside. All the clinic could do was offer apologies, refunds, emotional support, and for those able to use them, free services.

Now, a flurry of lawsuits has sprung up around the incident and they may have immense repercussions — depending on the results. The hospital is seeking to limit claims by the parents to medical malpractice — which sharply limits the amount of any damages that can be paid under Ohio law. However, some of the parents had actual embryos — eggs that had already been fertilized and begun to divide — declared “persons” so that the cases can be pursued as wrongful death claims.

So far, the parents’ claims haven’t met with success. A judge ruled that embryos are still considered property under Ohio law, so a wrongful death claim doesn’t apply — although an appeal is now pending. If it is successful, the case may have a significant impact on both wrongful death claims and abortion rights.

It’s important to note that Ohio law recognizes the right of parents to file a wrongful death claim over an unborn child as long as the infant could have survived outside of the mother’s womb with or without artificial means. If you have lost an unborn child due to someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to a wrongful death claim. An attorney can evaluate your case and discuss your options.