Fertility laws `must be stricter'

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THE LAW governing the use of human sperm and eggs should be tightened so that the Diane Blood case, where a woman became pregnant with her dead husband's sperm, could not happen again, a new report to the Department of Health recommends.

The report says that consent must be gained in writing before removal of any gametes; the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) should no longer be able to permit export of sex cells that have been removed unlawfully; and the courts should determine the legality of cases.

The report is part of a review of consent procedures conducted by Sheila McLean, Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine at the University of Glasgow. It was ordered by the previous government.

Mrs Blood is due to give birth in the new year. Her husband, Stephen, died four years ago.

The HFEA blocked Mrs Blood's attempts to have a baby in Britain using sperm taken from her husband on the basis that he had not given written consent. Mrs Blood applied for a judicial review when the HFEA also refused her permission to receive treatment in Belgium. The decision went against her, but the Appeal Court ruled that the HFEA had been wrong not to abide by European law which gives citizens the right to go to another member state for treatment. The HFEA reversed its decision.

Professor McLean recommends the requirement in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 for consent to be given in writing should remain, and be extended to all treatment provided under the Act. A possible exception could be when someone cannot give consent because they are ill, although expected to recover, and are facing treatment that could render them infertile.

Tessa Jowell, minister for Public Health, said yesterdaypublic and professional views on the recommendations would be sought by April.