IVF Mix-up Case Begins In British Court

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - The case of a white woman who gave birth to a pair of black twins after a botched fertility procedure went to court Monday.

Genetic testing has shown that the woman is the biological mother of the twins, but it is thought that her eggs were combined with sperm from a man who was not her husband during an in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process.

The case is being heard by the head of the U.K. High Court's Family Division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who Monday identified the hospital involved in the mix-up as the Leeds General Infirmary in northern England.

The hospital quickly issued an apology and set up a telephone help line for former IVF patients worried about similar mix-ups.

The mix-up, the first known IVF mistake in Britain that has resulted in a live birth, was revealed in July.

"The court will in due course seek to disentangle a number of difficult issues," the judge said.

Butler-Sloss said the black couple involved in the mix-up were still childless, but indicated that the twins would remain with the birth mother and her husband. She said the children were currently in a "happy and loving" environment with the white couple.

The judge has granted injunctions preventing the news media from contacting the families involved or identifying them publicly until the end of the case.

A final decision on the paternity and custody issues raised in the case is expected by early next year.

String of mistakes

The British case was similar to mix-ups in New York in 1998 and in Holland in 1993, both of which also resulted in court proceedings.

Last week another IVF mistake, this one involving three couples, was uncovered at St. George's Hospital in London. Two of the women involved were given drugs to prevent pregnancies from developing after the wrong embryos were implanted in their wombs.

Despite the recent high-profile mistakes, the government agency that oversees reproductive medicine in Britain has defended IVF procedures and clinics.

Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, insisted that mistakes are extremely rare, occurring in less than a tenth of one percent of all IVF treatments.

"Clearly it is imperative that the right sperm are mixed with the right eggs, and the right embryos are put back in the right women," she said in a radio interview Monday.

Leather conceded, however, that other mix-ups may have gone undetected.

"The fact that this case which we know about has involved mixed-race babies suggests that it might not be the only time this has ever happened," she said.

But the state of British IVF industry was attacked by the anti-abortion charity Life.

"You will never stop human error," said Jack Scarisbrick, Life's national chairman. "These mistakes are bound to occur, and this is just one aspect of a wholly unacceptable activity."

Life is opposed to all IVF treatment, which Scarisbrick called the "manufacturing" of children, and instead promotes hormone therapy treatments for infertile couples.

"IVF, we believe, is bad medicine," he said. "Cases like these give people one more reason not to go down that route."

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