Couple speak out about IVF mistake
Dr Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust09 June 2006
A British couple have spoken to the press about the 'nightmare' they have gone through since a mistake was made during treatment they received at a Leeds fertility clinic six years ago. This is the first time the couple have spoken publicly about their situation, despite widespread press attention surrounding a number of court cases a few years ago. The couple - who are both white - underwent IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) at an assisted reproduction unit in the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which resulted in the birth of mixed-race twins after the wrong man's sperm was used.
The couple say that the twins, now six years old, have already asked their parents questions about why their skin colour differs. Experts have warned the couple that the issue raised by the children and others might become even more difficult as they get older, and that there could be long-term psychological effects on the children. The couple - who are only known as Mr and Mrs A - said that their joy at having successfully had children following treatment was mixed with anguish because of the mistake. Mrs A said that the distress at learning of the mistake made her 'physically sick'. 'The thought that I'd had children with a stranger felt like a violation in itself', she said, adding 'all we wanted was a family. Instead we were landed with a nightmare that will last forever'. Mr A said that the strain had threatened the couple's marriage. 'Many men in my position would have walked away' he said, adding that his wife was 'scared I would reject the twins and her. But that never entered my mind'.
In March 2003, a senior High Court judge ruled that the biological father is the legal father of the twins, rather than the man - Mr A - who is bringing them up. In 2002, genetic tests had established that Mrs A was the twins' genetic mother. However, during IVF treatment, her eggs had been fertilised with the sperm of 'Mr B', a man from another couple undergoing fertility treatment on the same day. Dame Butler-Sloss was asked to decide which man was the legal father of the children. The legal argument centred on whether Mr A gave his consent to the treatment. Under section 28 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, social fathers can be recognised as the legal father of children born to their wives or partners following artificial insemination, unless they did not give consent. The court held in this case that Mr A had not consented to the use of Mr B's sperm, only his own.
The decision meant that Mr A would have to adopt the children if he wanted to become their legal parent - this has since been done. However, the court also declared that Mr and Mrs A must send Mr B twice-yearly reports on the children including school reports, letters about their lives and photographs. The couple has also since moved house so that the children can attend a school where there are children from different cultural backgrounds. 'At the moment our children are happy and well balanced', said Mrs A, adding that the couple has 'been warned by experts that as they grow up their colour and parenthood will become an issue and they may react badly'. In a statement, a spokesman for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said that 'from the beginning the trust has apologised unreservedly, both in person to the families concerned and formally through our respective legal representatives'. He added: 'We recognise the distress caused to both families by this error'.
In 2004, the UK's Department of Health published a report of an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding a number of IVF mix-ups, including the one involving Mr and Mrs A. Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, commissioned Professor Brian Toft, in July 2002, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sperm mix-up and three other adverse events that occurred at assisted reproduction units in the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Professor Toft found that a mixture of human error, poor management and systems failures caused the adverse events. His report, which made more than 100 recommendations for change, heavily criticised fertility services, the government and the body - the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - that licenses and regulates the provision of fertility services in the UK.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.