After an eight-week stay at a fertility clinic at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, the 1,900 embryos belonging to patients at UC Irvine's now-defunct Center for Reproductive Health are now in the deep freeze at a Los Angeles tissue bank.
The embryos, whose fate was in question after the closing of the center June 2, were moved Thursday morning to the California Cryobank in Westwood, one of the largest frozen tissue banks in the country.
Attorney Ronald G. Brower, who represents former center director Dr. Ricardo H. Asch, said his staff videotaped the transfer "to preserve the integrity of the move."
The fate of the embryos has been the subject of much debate since the doctors removed them from the UCI clinic April 26 without notifying the university. The embryos were moved to the Saddleback Center for Reproductive Health, a satellite to the UCI clinic.
But Brower said the embryos have become a controversial part of the legal battle over patient and embryologist records between Asch and his two partners and the university, and the move needed to be overseen by an uninvolved party.
"What we wanted to do is put the embryos in the hands of a neutral third party," Brower said. "Not in the hands of any of the litigants."
UCI sued Drs. Asch, Jose P. Balmaceda and Sergio Stone last month, alleging that they transplanted eggs without patient consent, used a non-approved fertility drug and took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash payments without telling the university. The doctors have denied knowingly engaging in any wrongdoing.
Brower said that the cryobank has agreed to store the embryos free "as a humanitarian gesture," and that all three doctors will sign a formal agreement with the firm next week.
A draft letter of agreement specifies that a thorough inventory of the embryos will be made by a cryobank technician, a Center for Reproductive Health technician and a third, neutral technician picked by the first two, Brower said. A hot line is being set up to give patients a place to call about the status of their embryos and arrange to remove them if necessary, he said.