Thousands of frozen eggs and embryos that were stored at Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco may no longer be viable, jeopardizing eggs and embryos hundreds of women had stored in hopes of having children. Recently, liquid nitrogen levels in one of its freezers dropped significantly, causing temperatures in the storage tank to fluctuate to dangerously high levels. While the extent of this tragedy is still unclear, Pacific Fertility Center informed more than 400 patients that their frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged.
Pacific Fertility Center claims that it does not know how or why the liquid nitrogen levels dropped, and it is still unclear whether the problem was caused by human error or mechanical failure.
The potential damage to hundreds or thousands of eggs and embryos is both a devastating financial and emotional catastrophe. The process of removing, freezing, and storing eggs and embryos is a trying ordeal and can cost more than $10,000 per procedure. Additionally, these families are paying hundreds of dollars each year to store their frozen eggs and embryos. Even more devastating, for some families, this is their only chance at having children.
Officials and doctors at Pacific Fertility Center said the latest problem was discovered by the laboratory director, who eventually noticed that the level of liquid nitrogen in one of the clinic’s steel storage tanks had fallen too low. The high temperature creates a high risk of damage in vials called cryolocks. Each vial can contain as many as three eggs; embryos — fertilized eggs — are stored individually.
Pacific Fertility Center declined to say exactly how many eggs and embryos had been affected, but said storage tank No. 4 contained “several thousand” eggs and embryos. Alden Romney, Pacific’s spokesman, said that this tank represents as much as 15 percent of the total number of eggs and embryos stored at the facility.
Peiffer Wolf attorney Adam Wolf said: “Keep in mind that these families have entrusted their most valuable property in the entire world – their frozen embryos – to Pacific Fertility Center. We want to make sure that this devastating tragedy never happens again.”