In a heartbreaking mix-up at a hospital in Rome, a mother carrying twins after an in vitro fertilization procedure learned children were not hers genetically.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Two women went into Sandro Pertini Hospital on Dec. 4 for the procedure where it is thought the tubes of their respective embryos were switched, according to the Italian newspaper La Stampa (translated via Google Translate). La Stampa reported that it appears the women had similar — or even the same — last name, which could have contributed to the mistake.

It wasn’t until late March that the women learned of the issue. In testing for genetic abnormalities, it was revealed the twins were not genetically related to the couple originally assumed to be their parents. While the implanted embryos were thriving in this woman, the other involved in the mix-up miscarried.

Michael Ambrosini, the lawyer for the couple carrying the twins, told La Repubblica that the expectant mother said, “What can I do now? These children I felt them inside me.” She reportedly decided to carry them to term.

The husband of this woman told La Stampa they are “shocked” by the incident but also the leak of their information to the public.

But what will happen to the twins that aren’t genetically related to these parents? According to Italian law, the mother of a child is the one who gives birth to it.

“Legal claims will be useless to get the twins back,” Lorenzo D’Avack, vice president of Italy’s national bioethics committee, said, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The Daily Beast goes even more into the law that seems to suggest the woman couldn’t give the babies to their genetic parents if she wanted to (emphasis added):

Italy’s reproductive laws have been among the strictest in Europe for the last decade after a landmark parliamentary bill in 2004 banned the use of donated eggs and sperm or the freezing eggs or embryos. The strange reality is that if the couple had actually wanted to use someone else’s eggs or sperm to create a baby in December, they could not have done it legally in Italy.

That changed last week when the Italian high court overturned several contentious restrictions in the reproductive law known as “Law 40.” Before the high court decision, in vitro fertilization with donated eggs or sperm or both was a crime subject to a fine of up to €600,000 for the couple, and a potential loss of license for the physician and hospital that carried it out. But “Law 40” still has a few glitches. Perhaps stranger yet, if the errantly pregnant mother now chooses to carry the twins to term and give them back to the rightful parents, she could face a jail term of up to 20 years in prison because both commercial and altruistic surrogacy is still a crime in Italy.

Even though the hospital made the mistake, she would be breaking the law if she gave them back.

The Italian government is investigating the incident and procedures taken at the hospital that could prevent this from happening again in the future. 

Though mix-ups like this are rare, they’re not unheard of. In 2009, an Ohio couple suffered a similar incident where the wrong embryos were implanted into a woman. The woman carried the child and gave it to its genetic parents after birth.

(H/T: USA Today)