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Lawsuit Claims Defunct Clinic Stole Embryo

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An Orange County woman filed a lawsuit Friday claiming physicians from a now-defunct UC Irvine fertility clinic secretly took an embryo made from her egg and her then-husband’s sperm, and implanted it in a South American woman for profit.

Although a previous fertility scandal at the clinic centered on women’s eggs being surreptitiously taken to be fertilized by other men, this suit adds a new twist: alleging that the complete genetic material of at least one couple, and possibly as many as 500 couples struggling to have babies, may have been sold to other women.

Kelly Gora, a radiology technician in Tustin, told The Times that she and her husband badly wanted to have children when they approached the UC Irvine fertility clinic to have her eggs fertilized. Physicians told Gora, 37, that one of the four embryos harvested had not lived, she said. In reality, the suit filed in Orange County Superior Court alleges, the embryo was sold to and implanted in an unknown woman.

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Gora, meanwhile, received three fertilized eggs, which she and her attorney, Melanie Blum, allege were weaker than the one transferred to the South American woman.

“It’s unfortunate, because I think I have a lot to offer kids--I know I could provide a loving environment,” Gora said. “If I do have a child out there, I would be concerned that it has been brought up in a nice environment and that he or she is happy.”

Gora and her husband, James Felt, are now divorced. They never had children.

They sued the UC Board of Regents, the former UC Irvine Center for Reproductive Health and Drs. Ricardo H. Asch and Jose P. Balmaceda. Blum said scores of other similar lawsuits will be filed in the weeks ahead.

UC Irvine officials declined to comment. John Lundberg, deputy general counsel for the UC regents, said his office reviewed about 80 cases with similar allegations that Blum presented.

“I know she believed there were unconsented transfers,” Lundberg said. “In every case brought to our attention, we could account for all of the eggs and embryos. There were no eggs or embryos missing.”

Lundberg said he did not recognize Gora’s name, however, and could not tell whether she was among the cases accounted for.

Blum said she did not provide Lundberg with the “strongest cases” on purpose, and criticized the UC system for using lawyers, instead of reproductive endocrinologists, to scrutinize the earlier files.

Although Gora and her ex-husband paid about $13,000 for the fertility treatments, Blum said a woman receiving someone else’s embryo probably would pay about three times as much. She said she has been trying to locate the woman who received the fertilized embryo to determine if a child was born.

“If there were a child, I think I would tell the woman, ‘I’m sorry this happened to us. I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize what you have with this child,’ ” Gora said. “It wasn’t your fault, and it wasn’t the child’s fault. All I would ask is that I get pictures over the years. And maybe that they tell me if anything should happen to him or her.”

As of last year, UC Irvine had settled all 113 lawsuits stemming from the fertility clinic scandal that rocked its medical center in 1995. The university paid nearly $20 million to 107 infertile couples.

Federal charges were brought against Asch and Balmaceda, who fled the country, for allegedly stealing human eggs and planting them in other women. Another doctor, Sergio C. Stone, was convicted on nine counts of mail fraud. He was fired by the University of California Board of Regents.


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