UCI Seeks Information From 38 More Fertility Patients
UC Irvine officials sent letters to another 38 women late Tuesday night, informing them they may have been donors or recipients of stolen eggs and embryos at two Orange County fertility clinics.
Tuesday’s mailing brings to 93 the number of women notified by letter that they may be possible victims in an egg-swapping scheme at UCI’s fertility clinic. UCI officials are still trying to locate another 211 former patients, who also may be victims.
The tally far exceeds estimates released this summer by UCI officials, who speculated there were 35 possible victims.
“I keep thinking we must be at the end of this,” said Thomas Cesario, dean of UCI’s College of Medicine. “But I don’t know what to expect.”
Three doctors at clinics in Orange and Garden Grove have been accused by the University of California of stealing patients’ eggs and embryos and giving them to other women. The university also has accused the doctors--Ricardo H. Asch, Jose P. Balmaceda and Sergio C. Stone--of pocketing university funds, defrauding insurance companies and engaging in research misconduct. The doctors deny any deliberate wrongdoing.
In all, UCI either has contacted or is trying to contact 304 patients based on two sources. The first derives from a seven-page list prepared by a fertility clinic embryologist, which yielded 210 names. That list had been in the hands of university-hired attorneys since early October, but was overlooked for more than a month.
The second source is assorted documents that provided 94 additional names, UCI officials say.
But UCI officials emphasize they don’t know for certain whether any of the 304 women are actual victims of an unapproved egg transfer.
“We hope that as we contact patients, they will be able to provide information to determine if the transfers were consensual,” said UCI Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening, in a prepared statement released Wednesday.
UCI officials will say only that the letters ask the recipients to contact the university for the “opportunity to discuss their fertility treatment and to offer them assistance,” said Fran Tardiff, a UCI spokeswoman.
In response to the letters thus far, 16 patients are scheduling appointments with UCI officials to review their treatment at the former Center for Reproductive Health. UCI officials already have met with two other patients.
UCI officials, who hired a private detective earlier this month, said they will continue to track down the remaining patients on the two lists.
Asch is now practicing medicine in a Mexican clinic, and Balmaceda has returned to his native Chile. Both have sold their homes in the United States. Although the doctors are under criminal investigation by federal authorities, no charges have been filed against them. Stone is still living in Orange County.
Former patients who have questions about their experience at the clinics may call the UCI hot line at (714) 456-8906.