Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Direct-To-Consumer Baby Gender Mentor Test in a Three Year Stalemate

In 2005, news headlines excitedly shared the latest development in direct-to-consumer testing: the Baby Gender Mentor early prenatal gender detection test. Acu-Gen Biolab, Inc., a company based in Lowell, Massachusetts, claimed that as early as five weeks, pregnant women could use a simple finger-prick test to obtain a blood sample and send it to Acu-Gen who would use “established qPCR technology analysis” to determine their baby’s sex. Originally claiming their $275 test was “infallible” and 99.9% accurate with a 200% money back guarantee, many expectant women relying on Acu-Gen’s claims eagerly purchased the test.

Months later, numerous accusations surfaced relating to the accuracy of the test, Acu-Gen’s failure to honor the warranty policy, and more disturbingly, allegations that C.N. Wang, PhD, President of Acu-Gen, advised several women that the results of their gender detection test conflicted with their ultrasound results because their baby had chromosomal abnormalities or a fetal “defect.” As a result of this alleged medical advice, many women sought further testing and procedures to determine whether their baby did indeed have a chromosomal abnormality. In addition to enduring the tremendous anxiety caused by Wang’s statements, these women underwent additional procedures such as extra ultrasounds, amniocentesis, and chromosomal testing, accumulating costly and unnecessary expenses.

Why is this seemingly dated piece of news still an issue? Because it has yet to be resolved. Although thepregnancystore.com, a prior vendor of the test no longer carries the product, The Baby Gender Mentor website still sells the potentially dangerously misleading early prenatal gender detection test.

In early 2006, New Jersey law firm Gainey & McKenna filed a class action law suit, Blumer, et. al. v. Acu-Gen Biolabs, Inc., et. al. on behalf of over 100 women who purchased the Baby Gender Mentor test, claiming among other things, that Wang and Acu-Gen’s deceptive advertising, misrepresentation of the test’s accuracy, and illusory guarantee induced them to purchase an inaccurate test and caused them corresponding harm, amounting to eight counts of legal violations.

In the complaint, Blumer et. al. requested:

(1) profit disgorgement and restitution, which would recognize Acu-Gen’s unfair business practices and require them to pay Blumer and the women back, thus honoring their money back guarantee;

(2) compensatory damages, to compensate women for any other undue expenses such as the hundreds or thousands of dollars spent on additional medical testing to clarify whether their baby suffered from a chromosomal abnormality;

(3) punitive damages, to penalize the defendant’s wrongdoing and serve as a deterrent to similar companies; and

(4) injunctive relief to prevent Acu-Gen and Wang from further marketing, selling, and profiting from the test.

Acu-Gen maintains their product works, and Wang has referred to the allegations as “totally bogus.”

Although Gainey & McKenna negotiated on behalf of Blumer and arrived at a settlement agreement with Acu-Gen and Wang, according to Barry Gainey, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, both defendants reneged on their settlement agreement. The District Court of Massachusetts denied Blumer’s motion to enforce the settlement, leaving these women and all other similarly situated individuals at square one- susceptible to cutting edge and supposedly infallible technological advancements that leave them aggrieved without effective or timely recourse.

Barry Gainey confirmed that the case is still active and plaintiffs filed a motion to amend the complaint. To clarify this timetable: over three years have passed since filing serious accusations of legal violations, yet there has still not been a hearing on the case’s merits or enforceable settlement. This progression illustrates the inefficiency of the judicial system to address gaps in federal regulation and the potentially grave impact of direct-to-consumer tests.

Like many other direct-to -consumer tests available online, gender prediction tests have been treated as outside the scope of federal regulation. Despite the FDA’s mandate to regulate medical devices used in the diagnosis of disease or other conditions (such as pregnancy), the FDA has thus far declined to regulate the “home-brew” variety to direct-to-consumer tests where a laboratory such as Acu-Gen uses its own reagents and protocols. Thus, the FDA does not regulate the clinical or analytical validity of these tests. The FTC has similarly followed suit in declining to regulate the industry, despite its authority to prohibit false or misleading advertising.

Private remedy through the judicial system is ineffective in addressing the regulatory shortcomings in direct-to-consumer tests. Over three years later, and the women wronged by the Baby Gender Mentor test have yet to receive their day in court. Meanwhile, Acu-Gen continues to market, sell, and profit from a test that at best, is of uncertain validity, and more troubling, may reflect the allegations in the Blumer complaint. How many more aggrieved individuals and how many more years must the public wait until the FDA and the FTC step in?

-Katherine Drabiak-Syed

1 comment:

shashank said...

Here is a link to more information about the genetics of Baby Gender Testing that was prepared by our genetic counselor and which has links to some useful resource for those dealing with this condition: http://www.accessdna.com/condition/Baby_Gender_Testing/53. There is also a number listed for anyone who wants to speak to a genetic counselor by phone. I hope it helps. Thanks, AccessDNA