A woman (L) walks past a model showing a human fetus (C), which forms part of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition Da Vinci Secrets "Anatomy to Robots" at the Sydney Town Hall on May 20, 2010.
Credit: Greg Wood

An Australian hospital has accidentally terminated the wrong fetus while treating a woman carrying twin boys, one seriously ill.

The incident at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital happened after the mother, 32 weeks pregnant, asked to have the twin with a congenital heart defect terminated.

Doctors had told the woman that when born, the twin would require numerous operations, if he survived.

Staff were carrying through her request to abort the twin but injected the wrong fetus, despite earlier checks by an ultrasound technician.

After the mistake was uncovered, the baby with the heart problem was also then terminated in an emergency Caesarean that reportedly took three hours.

An unnamed friend of the mother told the Herald Sun newspaper that she was struggling to cope with the tragic error.

"She went to the hospital with two babies and now she has none," the friend reportedly said. "And she had the heartache of giving birth to her sick baby. She's traumatized. 

"The hospital said it had followed correct procedure, but how could this happen? The ultrasound clinician said she checked three times before the termination because she didn't want to make a mistake."

A spokeswoman for the hospital told reporters that:

"This is a terrible tragedy and the hospital is deeply sorry for the loss suffered by the patient and her family. We are conducting a full investigation and continue to offer the family and affected staff every support."

The Health Minister of the state of Victoria, David Davis, has foreshadowed as many as three inquiries and compensation for the family, The Australian newspaper reported.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson, the government watchdog for the health sector, said she had never heard of a mistake like it.

"It would have been complicated, however that doesn't mean the greatest care shouldn't still be taken," Wilson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Lorraine Long, founder of Medical Error Action Group, described the case as shocking.

"How they could get that so wrong after pinpointing what was wrong and then doing it incorrectly makes me speechless," Long told the ABC.

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