Fertility clinic error caused ‘hurt and distress’

family life

The female partner of a woman who gave birth to a child following fertility treatment is entitled a declaration of parenthood, the High Court has ruled.

The couple in question lived together but were not married or in a civil partnership. They underwent fertility treatment at a clinic in Nottingham regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. A child was born to one of the women, referred to in the carefully anonymised judgement as ‘Y’. The couple later split up but remained on good terms and her former partner continued to play an active role in the child’s life. Both women believed she held the status of parent.

But the biological mother’s partner, ‘X’, later made the upsetting discovery that due to an administrative error she had not, after all, become the second legal parent of the couple’s child, ‘C’. She therefore applied for a fresh declaration of parentage under sections 43 and 44 of Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.

In the High Court, Family Division President Sir James Munby noted:

“Y was not present [during the High Court hearing] but had sent a handwritten letter to the court dated 18 July 2017 “to confirm my support for … the applicant, in the hearing to obtain parental status for our [child].” The letter, having explained why she could not be present, went on:

“[X] has my full support and backing in this case. I hope in court on Friday this terrible error by [the fertility clinic] is rectified and we can start to move on from all the stress and upset it has caused.”

The emotional upheaval caused by the discovery was clear, the President added.

“I asked X [during the hearing] if she wanted to speak. She did so from the well of the court – I saw no need for her to be sworn. Her words, though brief, were powerful and very moving; for some of the time she was in tears, and I can well understand why.”

She had described her own reaction to the discovery in a witness statement:

“… when I was made aware of the fact that I legally had no rights in respect of [C] due to a significant error by [the clinic] my whole world was turned upside down and this obviously had a significant effect on me and my ability to cope with life generally on a day to day basis.”

She added:

“… A declaration from the court cannot take away the hurt and distress that I have felt from the moment that I found out about this issue until it will have been resolved, it also cannot undo the ongoing effects that this situation has caused …”

An apology issued by the clinic was insufficient she stressed.

“Yes they accept in the statement that they made a mistake but they seem to somewhat try to pass it off as insignificant and non consequential in terms of the effect that this has had on me. I felt sick to my stomach when I read the statement … because I felt that they, of all people, would have at least recognised the harm and upset that they would have caused.”

Sir James said he was:

“…quite satisfied that this is no exaggeration on X’s part.”

The case as the latest in a series of similar fertility clinic errors to come before the President: he estimated that there had been 37 to date.

Sir James’ conclusion was brusque:

“X is entitled to the declaration she seeks.”

Read the ruling here.

Photo by Chris Costes via Flickr

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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1 comment

Anna - August 12, 2017 at 3:57pm

Thanks for sharing the news, but is this applicable to the whole of U.K or only in Nottingham?

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