Fertility Mix-Up Lands In British Court

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - In a case that has highlighted the shortcomings of fertility treatment, the biological father of twins born after a botched IVF treatment is also the legal father of the babies, the British High Court ruled Wednesday.

The man, known only as Mr. B, provided sperm that was intended for his wife. Instead, he became the father of twins born to another couple, known in court records as Mr. and Mrs. A.

The mistake was discovered only because Mr. and Mrs. A are white while Mr. B is black, and the children had noticeably dark complexions.

The mix-up at the Leeds General Infirmary, the first known IVF mistake in Britain that has resulted in a live birth, was revealed in July of last year.

The High Court ruling means that Mr. B will potentially have rights over the two children, who are now living with the A couple. High Court Justice Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss ruled that the twins should continue to live with the couple, but Mr. A will have to initiate adoption proceedings to have full rights over the children.

None of the people involved in the case can be identified by name for legal reasons.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which governs fertility treatment in Britain, said Wednesday that the ruling was "reasonable."

"When politicians created the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, they could not even imagine that such a situation would arise," a spokesman said. "Therefore it is entirely appropriate for the decision to be made in a court of law."

The HFEA, along with groups representing fertility doctors, said the said steps would be taken to prevent similar mix-ups in the future, but groups critical of IVF expressed doubts about the procedure.

The authority restricted the IVF license of the clinic where the mix-up occurred and instituted new double-checking procedures at all British clinics after the mistake was revealed.

Dr. Sue Avery, chairwoman of the Association of Clinical Embryologists (ACE), said her organization is working "to try to ensure that that there will never again be another case in this country where the wrong sperm is used in an IVF procedure."

"We will be looking very carefully at the details of the report about the Leeds General Infirmary case when it is published," she said.

"In addition, we are also in the process of developing a professional code of conduct for our members, which will ensure as far as it is possible, that all embryologists adopt the same protocols and standards across the UK," she said.

In a statement, the British Fertility Society expressed its sympathy to the couples involved.

"Where errors occur we must learn from them, and as a matter of policy IVF units are continually reviewing their procedures to ensure that mistakes are not repeated," said chairwoman Dr. Alison Murdoch.

But fertility watchdog group Comment on Reproductive Ethics said the case was "a new twist in the tortured efforts of the assisted fertility world to accommodate their practices within legal concepts based almost exclusively on natural reproduction."

"Our whole concept of fatherhood is under threat as more and more artificial ways of making babies become possible," a CORE spokeswoman said.

"Leaving aside the complex ethical problems, legally we are negotiating a minefield," she said.

"The HFEA have promised us more stringent controls within the fertility laboratories, and this is welcome, but inevitably mistakes will continue to happen," the spokeswoman said. "Perhaps we should go back to actually curing fertility rather than making babies in the lab."

See Previous Story:
IVF Mix-up Case Begins In British Court (4 Nov. 2002)

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