Liability for mismanagement of sperm specimens in fertility practices

Micah Vaughn, B.S., Amjad Hossain, Ph.D., John Y. Phelps, M.D., J.D., L.L.M.

Volume 103, Issue 1, Pages 29-32


The mismanagement of sperm specimens in fertility practices can lead to lawsuits and unwanted publicity. In addition, allegations of mismanagement and the scrutiny that follows can tarnish the reputation of even the best facilities. Also, when mismanagement of sperm specimens has not occurred, defending allegations of mismanagement can be financially draining as well as time-consuming. The causes of action and complaints in many of these cases stem from [1] failure to maintain chain of custody, [2] alleged disposal of stored specimens without proper patient notification, [3] spoilage of sperm, [4] use of another man’s sperm without consent, [5] sperm mix-ups, and [6] misconduct of laboratory personnel.

  • The examples presented in this article definitely highlight the challenges in managing sperm specimens at fertility clinics.
    Do the authors think that clinics should consider having all specimens produced on site? Possible malpractice situations / patient deception could still arise when specimens are delivered from home by the male or female partner. Requiring valid identification is important, but also means that all clinic staff need to be trained in checking IDs.
    Another tricky issue is the partner presence for treatment. Should partners be required to be present for all IUIs? Theoretically a couple could separate at any time, including during the interval from initial consult to treatment.
    It appears that clinics need to find the right balance between establishing sound medicolegal practices and introducing an excessive number of impractical rules (that may lead couples to seek care elsewhere).

    • John Phelps

      We agree that clinics need to find the right balance between establishing sound medicolegal practices and not introducing excessive impractical rules.

      It is preferable to have all specimens produced on site; however, there are certain exceptions that may arise during clinical practice. In these instances, it is recommended that the staff make a good faith effort to ensure the identity of the male when the specimen is delivered. Checking a valid government ID should suffice.

      In regards to having the male present for all IUIs, we recommend that the male be present for at least one visit and consent to the use of his sperm for fertilization.

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