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Couple says fertility clinic that mixed up their embryos put them 'through living hell'

They say at least one of their embryos was given to a Korean American couple, who gave birth to two boys not of Asian descent.

A Glendale, California, couple said Wednesday that they can never forgive the Los Angeles fertility clinic that mixed up their embryos and impregnated another woman, causing them to miss the first moments of their son's life.

CHA Fertility Center and members of its staff wrongfully gave at least one embryo belonging to Anni and Ashot Manukyan to a couple living in New York, the Manukyans and their lawyer said Wednesday. Anni Manukyan herself was unsuccessfully impregnated twice and understands now that at least one of those embryos was not hers.

The Manukyans only discovered they had a son after the New York couple, who are Korean American and were expecting two girls, gave birth to two boys who were not of Asian descent. It is unclear who the second baby's parents are.

Anni and Ashot Manukyan endured a monthslong custody battle for their son and have now filed a lawsuit against CHA Fertility for emotional and punitive damages.

"I wasn't there for his birth, I did not carry him, I did not feel him kick inside of me, I didn’t do the skin to skin, I didn't breastfeed him," Anni Manukyan told NBC News. "All of that was just robbed from me because of this company that messed up, you know."

"Nobody should meet their baby in the lobby of a hotel," she said,

Image: Anni and Ashot Manukyan
Anni and Ashot Manukyan said Wednesday that the Los Angeles-based CHA Fertility Center's mishandling of their embryos has put them "through living hell."KNBC

Anni Manukyan said that the clinic's chief operating officer called the couple in to take a DNA test in mid-April, two weeks after their son was born, for what they claimed was a quality control test. The next day, they were asked to come in and then told about the mistake with a psychologist in the room.

"She just said over two weeks ago there were two babies that were born and as soon as I heard that, I felt my heart beat outside of my body," Anni Manukyan said Wednesday.

The Manukyans said they will be eternally grateful for the woman who carried their son and cared for him in the first few weeks of his life, even knowing he was not her own, but that this should never happen to another family again.

"I cannot sit quietly while CHA’s cruel actions continue hurting not only my family, but to others we know as well," Ashot Manukyan said. "CHA put my family through living hell."

CHA Fertility Clinic did not immediately respond to a request for more information from NBC News.

The Korean American couple in New York separately filed a federal lawsuit last week in the Eastern District of New York. The suit claims that after years of failed efforts to have children and spending more than $100,000 to get pregnant at CHA Fertility, doctors used embryos that belonged to two other couples who had also received treatment there.

After giving birth March 30 to a set of twins that were not of Asian descent, the lawsuit says, the couple “was shocked to see that the babies they were told were formed using both of their genetic material did not appear to be.”

The couple, identified only by their initials in court documents to minimize the “embarrassment and humiliation” caused by the clinic, the suit says, then had to relinquish custody of the children.

Dov Fox, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, said in an earlier interview that regulatory gaps lead to situations like these. There's no federal law, no state law, no enforced professional guideline that licenses these facilities, according to Fox.

"In fertility medicine, it's very different than any other field, where we regulate very closely what's called 'never events,'" Fox said. "These are major, avoidable mistakes. Things like blood transfusion on the wrong person, or a surgery on the wrong body part or the wrong patient. There, we require mandatory disclosure and we figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. We have nothing like that for what you might call 'never events' in reproductive technology."