Teacher starts action to pay for surrogate baby

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The Independent Online
A WOMAN left childless and barren when she was 20 because of a medical blunder will appear in court today seeking damages to pay for a surrogate birth so she can make a second attempt at starting a family.

Patricia Briody, 46, will make medical history if she wins her case against St Helens and Knowsley health authority. She found a woman in California willing to carry her child, and medical tests have shown she is capable of providing the eggs.

The health authority was last year found guilty of negligence in the care of Ms Briody, more than a quarter of a century after she had two pregnancies which ended in stillbirths and an emergency hysterectomy.

The High Court hearing in London is to determine the amount of damages. If the judge accepts that her chance of having a family - lost because of medical incompetence - should be restored, the case could have wide implications for the NHS.

Ms Briody, a primary school teacher from St Helens, Merseyside, has overcome enormous odds to reach this week's hearing. She fought an 11-year legal battle with the full weight of the medical and legal establishment ranged against her. Despite pressure to settle out of court she has refused offers of pounds 60,000, then pounds 100,00. She is seeking compensation for her suffering and the means to start a new family.

Today, the court will hear evidence from two of Britain's leading test- tube baby 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 surrogacy treatment. Lord Winston, a noted champion of patients' rights, has on this occasion chosen to appear as an expert witness for the health authority while Professor Craft is to appear for Ms Briody.

In a report to the health authority in the autumn, Lord Winston said although he had not examined Ms Briody 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.

Professor Craft, who will carry out the surrogacy treatment if she wins her case, said in his report that he would be prepared to treat her although he agreed that using her own eggs she had a minimal chance of success.

He examined her and her new partner in the summer, conducted tests, and sent the couple before the London Fertility Centre's review panel which approved them for surrogacy. Ms Briody's case has already broken records because of the 25-year gap between the medical mishap in 1973 and the decision in her favour by the courts in 1998. The judge decided that her second stillbirth, which resulted in the rupture of her womb and the emergency hysterectomy, could have been avoided if her consultant had recognised after the first stillbirth that she had a malformed pelvis which made a Caesarean essential. A health authority appeal was rejected by the Court of Appeal in April.

Yesterday, Ms Briody said she had been forced to look for a surrogate mother abroad because the main surrogacy agency in the UK, called Cots, had a three-year waiting list. "I can't afford to wait. I don't have the time," she said.

Using a surrogate mother from the US, who would have to come to the UK for treatment, would increase the costs and if donor eggs are needed it will be up to the judge to decide whether that is allowable as part of her claim.

Ms Briody said she would accept surrogacy using donor eggs but wanted to try with her own first. "I think I deserve a chance after all that has happened," she added. "Even if the chances are low, you don't know if you don't try."