Widow's fight for husband's spermBMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7070.1477 (Published 07 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1477
Intervention by BMA's ethics committee was ill judged
- Robert Winston
- Professor of fertility studies Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, London W12 0NS
EDITOR,—The involvement of the BMA's ethics committee in the recent decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to refuse to allow Mrs Diane Blood to be inseminated with sperm obtained from her husband after his death was ill judged.1 In a letter to the authority Dr Stuart Horner, the chairman of the ethics committee, said, “ethically, whether the consent is in writing or given orally is irrelevant. The essential issue is the quality of that consent.” No reasonable person would be likely to disagree with that sensible statement. However, he went on to say, “From the information portrayed in the media there is no evidence that Mr Blood had clearly thought through the issue.”
Many people are extremely concerned that the ethics committee made representations to the authority on the basis of evidence purely derived from the media. As it happens, there is ample evidence that both Mr and Mrs Blood had considered this issue extremely seriously before Mr Blood's sudden death.
It is unfortunate and highly inappropriate for an ethics committee to arrive at its conclusions in a particular case in this way. It was unethical to have done so, particularly as this was an attempt to influence the outcome on the basis of hearsay evidence. Apart from doing a serious injustice to both Mr and Mrs Blood, actions such as this can serve only to reduce the BMA's standing in the community at large.