Some men lost the chance to be biological fathers last year after their sperm samples were destroyed when a tank keeping them frozen at Northwestern Memorial Hospital failed, an attorney who filed lawsuits against the hospital said Tuesday.
The 40 lawsuits were filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court on behalf of men whose illnesses or treatments could eventually cause infertility. They target the hospital and Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, technicians at which operated the tank, officials said.
“The sperm that had been banked there was their one and only shot for most of them or many of them to have a biological family of their own,” said Matthew Jenkins, an attorney working on the cases.
The lawsuits, all filed under “John Doe” to protect the patients’ identities, allege that in April of 2012, the cryopreservation and the storage procedure at Northwestern failed, causing damage to semen and testicular tissue, and that Northwestern staff failed to adequately monitor and respond when they knew the system failed.
In a release Tuesday, Northwestern officials said, “we deeply regret that this equipment malfunction occurred,” but that in many cases, the specimens in the tank that malfunctioned may still be viable for use in in vitro fertilization.
A team of specialty physicians from the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation urology and reproductive endocrinology departments reached out to more than 250 patients to advise them of the equipment failure in the sperm bank when it occurred over the weekend of April 21-23, 2012, the statement read. Since then, more than 100 patients have “engaged us in further evaluation and consultation,” the statement read.
Furthermore, according to the statement, specimens were immediately transferred to a working storage tank after the malfunction was observed.
But the lawsuits also allege that Northwestern was negligent because it put all the sperm samples into one tank, when it had “numerous additional tanks” available.
“It’s a no-brainer that we learn in kindergarten that you’re not supposed to store all your eggs in one basket,” Jenkins said Tuesday. “They were taking vials — multiple vials from people who were banking sperm under these terrible circumstances — and putting them all in one tank when they had many tanks available to them.”
Jenkins said no plaintiffs would likely speak publicly about the lawsuits because of the “sensitivity and privacy of the subject matter.”
“Not everybody wants the outside world, the local Chicago community, to know what sort of medical treatments they were going through, how tough chemo was and all those sorts of things, and that’s why they all chose to file, for us to file on their behalf, as John Does,” Jenkins said.
The lawsuits seek monetary damages, but the exact amounts will be determined only as the case develops, said Tom Demetrio, an attorney working on the case.