Cancer survivors discuss pain of losing eggs to fertility clinic failure

Three cancer survivors are suing the Cleveland-area fertility clinic that accidentally destroyed more than 4,000 stored embryos and eggs. All three women allege they risked their lives by delaying chemotherapy to undergo painful fertility treatments. It is the latest in a series of lawsuits against the clinic.

Roughly 950 families are believed to be impacted by last month's storage tank failure, reports CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula. Now there are calls to strengthen regulations on an industry that many Americans depend on to protect their eggs.

In an emotional press conference on Monday, the cancer survivors told similar and painful stories. 

"I risked my life and delayed my chemotherapy treatments because having a family was so important to me," Sarah Deer said.

Rachel Mehl said when she learned her eggs were gone, it was like a punch to the gut.

ctm-0403-fertility-lawsuit-university-hospitals.jpg

In an emotional press conference, Rachel Mehl described the pain she has endured since learning her eggs were destroyed at University Hospitals fertility clinic.

CBS News

"Because of the carelessness of UH, University Hospital, I have now lost all hopes of ever having biological children," Mehl said. 

Their new lawsuit alleges that "University Hospitals did not notify its clients or double check to make sure its local and remote monitoring systems were functional" despite being "aware of issues with the liquid nitrogen storage tank in the weeks preceding" last month's malfunction.

In a letter to patients last week, University Hospitals admitted "the tank in question needed preventative maintenance" prior to the March 3 incident. The tanks that protect embryos are often exempt from government oversight, but there are proposals in the works for new regulations. 

Ohio state Sen. Joe Schiavoni is in the early stages of crafting regulatory legislation with fellow lawmakers.

"If something goes wrong with the chemical makeup of this tank… then there should be a trigger, there should be an alarm, and there needs to be somebody there that can remedy this situation immediately," Schiavoni said.

But for some, the suggested regulations have come too late.

"UH must be held accountable for shattering our dreams and for forever altering the courses of each of our lives," Mehl said.

University Hospitals responded to Monday's press conference in a statement, saying: "We watched three women share their stories of the loss they suffered. We are profoundly sorry for their loss and are committed to helping make sure this never happens again anywhere."