A West Delhi-based hospital that botched up an in vitro fertilisation procedure for a Hyderabad-based couple, by using donor semen that did not belong to the husband, has been instructed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) to cough up a fine of ₹1.5 crore for negligence and resorting to unethical practices.
The NCDRC has ruled that there is a need to make it mandatory for Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) centres to issue DNA profiling of babies born through ART procedures. The court has conveyed this to the National Medical Council and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare through the order.
The NCDRC has also observed that mushrooming of IVF clinics has made rampant unethical practices in India and that there is a need for prompt and fixed timeline for accreditation of ART clinics by authorities.
The NCDRC order comes 14 years after the complainant, Priyanka Tandon, conceived twin girls. In 2008, Ms. Tandon and her husband Dinesh approached Bhatia Global Hospital and Endosurgery Institute for an IVF procedure.
On October 15, 2008 an Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) procedure was carried out and an embryo was transferred in Ms. Tandon’s womb. The pregnancy was confirmed after a month and later Ms. Tandon went on to deliver twin girls.
The blood group of one of the twins was AB positive. The blood group of Ms. Tandon was B positive while that of her husband was O negative. This raised suspicion about the paternity. In 2009 therefore, the couple underwent a paternity test via DNA profiling at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, which revealed that Ms. Tandon’s husband was not the biological father of the twin girls, the NCDRC order states.
The couple then filed a consumer complaint to claim ₹2 crore for alleged negligence, deficiency in service which created emotional stress, family discord and a fear of genetically inherited diseases.
The consumer forum observed that mix-up of sperms could have happened at two stages — either at the stage of collection of semen, or during storage for four hours before insemination.
It further observed that the doctors involved in the procedure were pointing fingers at each other and resorting to shifting blame and that unfair trade practices were adopted by the doctors.
The NCRDC also observed that an embryologist, who is a crucial person for conducting the ICSI or IVF procedure, was missing from the scene in the case of the complainant couple. It questioned the handling of egg and semen samples in the absence of a qualified embryologist. “Routine gynaecologists who do not have in-depth knowledge are also opening clinics as they think there is money in it,” the order stated.
The NCRDC has imposed a fine of ₹1.5 crore on the accused — Dr. R.S. Bhatia, Chairman; Dr. Indu Bhatia, Director; Dr. Archana Bajaj, Dr. Indira Ganeshan, both consultants; and Dr. Parveen Bhatia, Medical Director of the hospital.
The court observed that negligence of doctors has led to the genetic link being severed between parents and their children and it has caused parental confusion for the children, leaving the complainants giving explanations to the children in later life. “The amount of ₹1.5 crore shall be kept in fixed deposit in equal proportion in names of each twin till both attain majority, and parents shall be the nominee and are permitted to withdraw periodic interest for the welfare of the child,” the order says.
Treating this case as a microcosm, the NCRDC raised wider issues surrounding mushrooming of ART centres which lead to incorrect treatment of the innocent infertile couples. “The instant complaint involves many burning issues like medical ethics, unfair practices and misleading advertisement,” it said.
While the hospital was duty-bound to provide quality services, it indulged in misleading ads to allure anxious infertile couples for ART and adopted unethical practices, it further said.