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IVF error discovered after 13 years

Dr Kirsty Horsey

Progress Educational Trust

22 August 2003

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[BioNews, London] A UK newspaper has reported that a 13-year old boy has grown up thinking the wrong man was his father after an IVF mix-up. The Sun reports that his mother was fertilised with the sperm of the wrong man during fertility treatment at the private Wellington Hospital clinic in London in 1988. The news comes following a court-ordered DNA test of the boy and his mother's first husband, who had at the time provided sperm for the IVF procedure. The boy and his mother had wanted a test to confirm suspicions that the man was not in fact the biological father.

The Sun reports that after 80 secret hearings, held over a period of six years, the Family Division of the High Court ordered this year that the boy's social father must supply a saliva sample for DNA paternity testing. The boy, who has not been named, told The Sun 'I am relieved to know the truth at last, but I have no wish to know who my real father is'. The boy's mother, who has since married again, said 'if the judge had ordered the DNA test all those years ago, when I first requested it, I might have been able to find out who [my son's] real father is'.

The Wellington Hospital no longer carries out IVF and the medical records relating to the case cannot now be found. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which licenses all IVF clinics in the UK, had not been established in 1988. At that time, clinics were working under a Voluntary Licensing Authority (VLA), established in the absence of legislation. Following a case last year in which a white woman gave birth to mixed race twins after the wrong sperm was used in IVF, the HFEA introduced 'standard operating procedures' in order that every stage of the IVF treatment is double-checked. The authority says that 'cross checking and witnessing should minimise the risk of the 'wrong' sperm, eggs or embryos being used'.

Angela McNab, Chief Executive of the HFEA, said 'whilst the chance of any error occurring is extremely small because of the witnessing procedures now in place, the HFEA continuously assesses even 'near miss' incidents in order to improve safety across all licensed IVF clinics'. Professor Alison Murdoch, chair of the British Fertility Society, said the new checking system means that the potential for similar errors to occur in IVF these days is 'extremely slight'.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 22 August 2003   Date Updated: 12 September 2004
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