Intended for healthcare professionals


White couple can keep mixed race twins after IVF blunder

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 09 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1055
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    Stringent checks to prevent errors have been made mandatory in all in vitro fertilisation (IVF) centres in the United Kingdom after use of the wrong sperm led to the birth of mixed race twins to a white couple. The High Court revealed this week that the blunder happened at the assisted conception unit at Leeds General Infirmary. The unit was named and details of the circumstances of the mix up released as a group of newspapers prepared to challenge a blanket injunction that had kept the case shrouded in secrecy since it came to court last summer.

    The white couple, called Mr and Mrs A in court, and a black couple, Mr and Mrs B, underwent treatment by intracytoplasmic sperm injection on the same day. Mrs A conceived, but Mrs B's treatment was unsuccessful and the Bs remain childless. DNA testing showed Mr B to be the twins'biological father.

    An internal inquiry by the hospital failed to reach a definite conclusion but suggested that the error probably happened either when the sperm samples were placed in a centrifuge or when they were removed from a storage box immediately before injection into the eggs.

    The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which licenses IVF clinics, has made it mandatory for all clinics to set up a double checking protocol for all stages in the procedure where a mistake could occur.

    Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court's family division, said there were no welfare concerns over the twins, who lived in a “happy and loving environment,” and no one was suggesting that they should be uprooted from the As' care.

    She will go on to consider in the new year whether Mr A, though not the children's biological father, is their legal father under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

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