Catastrophic Human Error in Assisted Reproductive Technologies: A Systematic Review

J Patient Saf. 2022 Jan 1;18(1):e267-e274. doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000763.


Objective: Assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) are complex processes with multiple and diverse opportunities for human error. Errors in ART are thought to be rare, but can have devastating consequences for patients and their offspring. The objectives of this article are to review known cases of human error in the ART laboratory and suggest preventative strategies.

Methods: We performed a systematic review of the literature in accordance with Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses guidelines using PubMed and Google Scholar databases. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they involved known cases of unintentional human error in the ART laboratory. Only full-text articles in English were included. References of the resulted studies were considered for inclusion.

Results: A total of 420 articles were screened and 37 articles were selected for inclusion. These largely included case reports and reviews in the medical and legal literature. Twenty-two adverse events due to human error in the ART laboratory were identified. Eight of these adverse events were the result of the insemination with the wrong sperm, 6 errors lead to the transfer of the wrong embryo, 3 lead to an error in preimplantation genetic testing, and 5 adverse events lead to the failure of gamete and embryo cryostorage.

Conclusions: Since the advent of ART, there have been reports of catastrophic events occurring secondary to human error in the laboratory to include incidents of unintended parentage, and have resulted in the loss of embryos and gametes through cryostorage failure. Proposed solutions include the stringent implementation and adherence to safety protocols, adequate laboratory staffing and training, and novel methods for specimen labeling and tracking. Of utmost importance is having knowledge of these errors and the ability to determine cause so that future events can be prevented.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted* / adverse effects