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Health & Pregnancy

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Switched at Conception

'I question everything'
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

Feb. 5, 2001 -- The last thing Kelli Gora ever expected to hear was that she might be a mother. That was a dream the Californian, now 38, had given up on years earlier, when several in vitro fertilization (IVF) attempts costing her more than $15,000 failed to produce a child. It was a painful experience she had worked hard to accept and put behind her.

But the wound was reopened last year when a lawyer investigating allegations against the University of California, Irvine's now-closed Center for Reproductive Health -- where Gora had her IVF procedures in the early 1990s -- told her that records indicated a woman who had traveled from South America to the clinic had received one or more of Gora's "donated" embryos. "At the time, the possibility of something like that happening never even occurred to me. I was told those embryos had died," Gora tells WebMD.

It's a possibility that Sean Tipton, director of public affairs for the Society of Assisted Reproductive Medicine, says others seeking IVF procedures needn't worry about. The Irvine clinic scandal -- which first came to light in 1994 and may involve hundreds of patients -- was an isolated incident, he says, and today, fertility centers follow stricter ethical codes around embryo use.

But Gora's lawyer, Melanie R. Blum, isn't so sure, and would like to see stiffer laws regarding the handling of eggs and embryos in IVF and other procedures. Blum, a reproductive-law specialist who has represented clients in more than 120 lawsuits against the Irvine clinic, including Gora, tells WebMD: "The clinic at Irvine isn't the only one where things like this have happened. I hear about similar cases all the time, from all over the country."

As a result of the Irvine scandal, the university closed the clinic, fired the three physicians who ran it, and sued them as well as the clinic to obtain patient and financial records. Two of the physicians - including Ricardo H. Asch, MD, who treated Gora -- are believed to have fled the country; the third physician remained in the U.S. and eventually was convicted of insurance fraud.

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