Six months on, why am I kept waiting to conceive my dead husband's baby?

Diane Blood's treatment to conceive her dead husband's child has still not started more than six months after the historic court ruling allowing her to take his frozen sperm to a clinic in Belgium for in vitro fertilisation. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, spoke to her on the day the Government issued a consultation document on changing the law.
Click to follow
The Independent Online
This has been a difficult year for Diane Blood. The 33-year-old widow thought her battle for the right to bear her dead husband's child was won last February when the Appeal Court in effect forced the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Au- thority to allow her to seek fertility treatment abroad.

But having persuaded the courts of the justice of her case she has since faced the equally difficult task of convincing the doctors in the Belgian fertility clinic where she is seeking treatment that it would be right to go-ahead.

Yesterday, she was putting a brave face on the delay: "Everything is trundling along very slowly. I am fine and well and happy but I haven't started treatment yet. I am going through the processes that they require in Belgium." She said the clinic, at the Free University of Brussels, required patients to undergo counselling before treatment began, as in Britain. "You do not have an automatic right to treatment. The clinic decides whether to offer treatment taking account of the welfare of the child. It is up to the individual doctors to decide who they treat and who they don't. I am still going through that process."

Ms Blood was referred to the clinic by her doctor in Britain after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ruled that sperm taken from her husband while he lay in a coma before he died from meningitis had been removed without written consent and it would be against the law for her to use it for treatment in Britain. When she applied to export the frozen sperm to Belgium, the authority at first refused but later relented after intervention of the Appeal Court.

At the time of the case, Paul De Vroey, clinical director of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at the Brussels Free University, said there was no guarantee that Mrs Blood would be treated. He said she would be interviewed and would receive counselling and her request would then be considered by the clinical team before going to the ethics committee for the final decision.

The case provoked widespread criticism of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which was accused of being "callous and pedantic", and the last government ordered a review of the law. Yesterday, the first stage in that review, a consultation document setting out the options for change and their consequences, was published by the health department. At present the law requires written consent to the removal of gametes (sperm or eggs) and changing it would be more difficult than most people realise, Sheila McLean, author of the review and professor of law and ethics in medicine at Glasgow University said yesterday. "When I started doing this, I did not realise how complex it would be. If the view at the end of the consultation period is that there should be a change then it would be possible to do but we would need to be very clear about what principles should operate and what interests we are trying to protect."

Two bills were introduced following the Diane Blood case - one by the fertility pioneer Lord Winston - which sought to soften the rigid requirement for written consent by qualifying it with the word "usually" or "normally". Both bills were later withdrawn but the report notes that they "would undoubtedly have had wider implications had they become law."

Yesterday Professor McLean said such an amendment would mean someone or some body would have to decide which conceptions were to be allowed to go ahead. "What tests would we use to make that judgment and who would be authorised to make it?" she said.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority yesterday welcomed the review but warned against opening the door to cases which have been allowed in other countries such as the United States.

A spokesman said: "In other countries parents of children in their early teens who have been knocked down by a car have demanded and received their sperm or eggs for storage or future fertilisation. In this kind of case it is difficult to argue that it is informed consent."