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

Jason and Melissa Diaz speak in a streamed press conference Wednesday. (Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane Conway & Wise)

Five years ago, Jason Diaz underwent drastic surgery to fight a rare type of cancer. His stomach was removed. Diffuse gastric cancer is an inherited disease, and it’s one that he didn’t want to pass on.

So when he and his wife Melissa decided to have kids, they made a plan. They would go the route of in vitro fertilization with genetic screening. Their child should therefore not suffer from the same disease as his father.

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 1, will eventually have to have his stomach removed.

“Every day, my heart aches for my little boy,” said Jason Diaz, “knowing the pain and challenges ahead of him.”

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

According to the complaint, Jason Diaz, 32, had his stomach removed in 2018 after he was diagnosed with widespread gastric cancer. Doctors discovered that he had a rare mutation in the CDH1 gene, which is linked to an increased risk – over 80% – for these cancers.

The couple, taking steps to ensure that any embryo Melissa Diaz would carry to term did not have the mutation, opted 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 baby, a healthy boy, was born in September.

In July 2022, the couple tried for another child at HRC Fertility via 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 diffuse gastric cancer. Due to the date of the move, she realized that he was her son.

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

This second report, included in the complaint, was the same as the first but missing key details: handwritten notes about which embryos were transferred and when, as well as the sex of each embryo.

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

The complaint claims that the child will develop cancer without a preventive gastrectomy or stomach removal. This procedure leads to serious and permanent medical complications.

The couple’s lawyer, Adam Wolf, said this was “yet another disaster in HRC’s history of misuse of patients’ genetic material and other serious fertility offences”, referring to another lawsuit against the clinic.

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

HRC, an affiliate of USC’s Keck Medicine, released a statement Wednesday. “We deeply sympathize with the plight of this family,” the statement said. The Diazes “wished for the transfer of a male embryo, which we did according to the family’s express wish and according to the highest standard of care.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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

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