Bungling hospital sued for cost of surrogate birth

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The Independent Online
IN THE first case of its kind, a woman is claiming the cost of a surrogate birth from a hospital whose errors rendered her infertile 20 years ago.

The case will feature evidence from two of Britain's leading specialists, Lord Winston, the fertility pioneer of Hammersmith Hospital, west London, and Professor Ian Craft, director of the London Fertility Centre in Harley Street, who disagree over her suitability for the treatment.

Patricia Briody, of St Helens, Merseyside, had two stillborn babies in the 1970s, which could have been avoided if her consultant had noticed she had a malformed pelvis. Her second pregnancy at the age of 19 ended with the rupture of her womb and she had to have an emergency hysterectomy.

Five months ago she won a ten-year legal battle against St Helens and Knowsley Health Authority for compensation. The authority had earlier offered her pounds 60,000, and later pounds 100,000, to settle the case, but she refused.

Now the case has entered its final stage with a court hearing set for December to determine the amount of damages to be paid. Professor Craft is due to appear for Ms Briody but is being opposed by Lord Winston for the health authority. If the court agrees to pay for surrogacy treatment, it will be a legal first.

Ms Briody, 45, said: "It is not a minor thing to lose two babies and your womb at 19. It affected my whole life. I still want children and I will have to pay for the surrogacy treatment. I am astounded the health authority are fighting so bitterly to the end. They have appointed a QC and Lord Winston, and it could mean four days in court, which will cost a lot of money."

She and her partner consulted Professor Craft in the summer. He conducted tests and sent the couple before the London Fertility Centre's review panel, which approved them for surrogacy, using her eggs. Professor Craft said he would be prepared to treat her, although using her own eggs she had a minimal chance of success.

Lord Winston, who has not examined Ms Briody, has submitted a report to the authority saying that he would not consider her a good candidate for surrogacy treatment, using her own eggs, because of her age and the abdominal surgery she has undergone, which can affect the blood supply to the ovaries.

Ms Briody said she would use donated eggs if she could not achieve a pregnancy with her own, but it would be up to the judge to decide whether this was allowable as part of her claim. She said she had been quoted a price of pounds 55,000 for two successful surrogate births, by the London Fertility Centre.

She also said Lord Winston appeared unaware of the details of her case, because he had added a note at the end of his report saying that he was "intrigued" why she had waited so long to seek surrogacy treatment when it had had wide publicity since the mid-Eighties. As a primary school teacher she could not afford the treatment herself and had not realised she might have a case against the health authority until a chance meeting with a lawyer in 1989.

The case is unique because of the 25-year gap between the medical mishap in 1973 and the decision in her favour by the courts in 1998. An appeal by the health authority was thrown out by the Court of Appeal in April.

Ms Briody said: "I think I deserve a chance after all that has happened. Even if the chances are low, you don't know if you don't try."