Couple sues Pasadena fertility clinic after baby is born with stomach-cancer gene

A head-and-shoulders image of a man and woman.
Jason and Melissa Diaz speak at a livestreamed news conference Wednesday.
(Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise)

Five years ago, Jason Diaz underwent drastic surgery to combat a rare type of cancer. He had his stomach removed. Diffuse gastric cancer is an inherited disease, and it’s one that he did not wish to pass on.

So when he and wife, Melissa, decided to have children, they made a plan. They would go the in vitro fertilization route with genetic screening. Their baby then wouldn’t have to suffer the same disease as his dad.

Now, the couple is suing a Pasadena fertility clinic. They say a doctor transferred an embryo with the stomach-cancer mutation, and their child, now a 1-year-old, will eventually have to have his stomach removed.


“Every day, my heart is hurting for my baby boy,” said Jason Diaz, “knowing the pain and challenges he has ahead of him.”

The couple, fighting back tears, spoke Wednesday at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.

An L.A. couple have sued Fujifilm Irvine Scientific, alleging the company’s mineral oil used in the IVF process destroyed their embryos.

Feb. 16, 2023

According to the complaint, Jason Diaz, 32, had his stomach removed in 2018 after being diagnosed with diffuse gastric cancer. Doctors discovered that he had a rare mutation in the CDH1 gene, which is linked to a heightened risk — more than 80% — for such cancers.

The couple, taking steps to ensure that any embryo Melissa Diaz would carry to term would not have the mutation, chose to go to Huntington Reproductive Center Fertility in Pasadena. In January 2021, she was impregnated via embryo transfer at the facility, the complaint says. The child, a healthy boy, was born in September.

In July 2022, the couple sought to have another baby at HRC Fertility by IVF. An HRC employee sent Melissa a form showing the embryos that were stored during the first procedure.

The first line of the form showed an embryo transferred to Melissa in January 2021 with a “mutant allele detected” for hereditary gastric diffuse cancer. Because of the transfer date, she realized that it was her child.


The complaint alleges that when the Diazes reached out to the facility in a panic, they were greeted with silence, and then in October received an “altered, falsified version” of the same report — with crucial information removed.

This second report, included in the complaint, was the same as the first but without key details: the handwritten notes about which embryos were transferred and when, as well as the gender of each embryo.

In Wednesday’s virtual news conference, an emotional Melissa described her son as a “very happy boy” who is “very chatty and friendly” and “loves seeing new things.”

The complaint states that the child will develop cancer without a preventive gastrectomy, or stomach removal. That procedure comes with severe and lifelong medical complications.

The couple’s attorney, Adam Wolf, said this was “yet another disaster in HRC’s history of misusing patients’ genetic material and committing other grave fertility misconduct,” referencing another suit against the clinic.

In that suit, a couple — also represented by Wolf — alleges that they wanted a male embryo but instead their gestational carrier was impregnated with a female embryo, according to City News Service. That suit is scheduled to go to trial in November.


HRC, an affiliate of Keck Medicine of USC, issued a statement Wednesday. “We deeply empathize with this family’s situation,” the statement said. The Diazes “wished to have a male embryo transferred, which we carried out according to the family’s explicit wishes and in accordance with the highest level of care.”