At last, Diane Blood can put the name of her husband on son's birth certificate

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The Independent Online

She endured the pain of losing her husband and spent three years in the courts fighting for the right to use his frozen sperm to have a child. She was forced, after years of uncertainty, to leave the country to conceive and finally gave birth to Liam two years ago.

She endured the pain of losing her husband and spent three years in the courts fighting for the right to use his frozen sperm to have a child. She was forced, after years of uncertainty, to leave the country to conceive and finally gave birth to Liam two years ago.

But Diane Blood's battle did not stop there because she had to register her child in Britain as illegitimate. When it came to signing the birth certificate, she was told that by law she had to leave the father's name blank or write "father unknown".

She found the denial of what she saw as her child's right to be legally recognised as the father of her late husband "very disappointing" and set out to change the law. If Government proposals out today become law, she will have won her fight.

Mrs Blood, with Marian Jordan, 27, from Stourbridge, who also conceived after her husband's death, has been campaigning since her son's birth.They both believe it is wrong that children who have been conceived posthumously are legally fatherless.

At the time of Liam's birth, Mrs Blood said she was surprised that she could not put her husband's name on the birth certificate. She said that the omission from the register of children conceived after their fathers' deaths was "a relatively unimportant but blatant lie", and she wanted the law to acknowledge the facts. Women in her position should be allowed to enter the husband's name with the word "deceased" and the date of his death, she added.

Mrs Blood and Mrs Jordan are among a growing number of women choosing to conceive years after the natural father has died. The Independent revealed last year that at least six such babies had been born to British mothers in that year.

It is now routine for men who are undergoing cancer treatment or kidney transplants to store sperm before treatment or surgery in case their fertility is affected. This practice and medical advances concerning fertility have led to a rise in the number of widows approaching fertility specialists to have their late husbands' children.

In recognition of the increasing numbers of children who are being conceived in this way, the Department of Health has said that it will give children born to "fathers beyond the grave" the same legal status as those born to two living parents, and allow the father's name to be put on the birth certificate.

The women who have fought to change the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) will also benefit by the Government allowing them to register the fathers on the birth certificates retrospectively, ending the uncertainty for at least 10 children who have been conceived from the sperm of their dead fathers.

The Government is expected to follow most of the other recommendations of Shiela McLean, an expert on ethics and law at Glasgow University. In her report published in December 1998 she said that children conceived should be allowed to have a legal father. "Arguably, providing such a child with a legal father is of symbolic rather than practical value, but it may be of significance for the child," she said.

She also said the law of succession should not be amended to secure succession rights for children conceived after the death of the sperm donor. It is believed that the Government will not, today, give children born to posthumous fathers any inheritance or succession rights.

Although there are some concerns about long term psychological problems in children born up to 10 years after their father's death, the over-riding public concern has been for the rights of women such as Mrs Blood to have children. Dr Umseh Acharya, the director of infertility at the Nuffield Hospital in Plymouth, criticised the practice. "Just because you can do the treatment, it doesn't mean that you should. We are doctors, not machines," he said.

The case of Mrs Jordan, who gave birth to Daniel last October, has been taken up by her MP, Debra Shipley, who represents Stourbridge.

Mrs Jordan's late husband, David, was diagnosed with cancer in 1997. Before starting his treatment the couple decided to freeze some of his sperm so that they could have children when he recovered.

Her husband died later in the year, but because they had filled out all the necessary consent forms, Mrs Jordan was given approval by an ethics committee to have his child.

Mrs Jordan, who had her child completely legally, was "shocked" to discover that her husband could not be named on the birth certificate. "It was like a hammer blow," she said. "It's like claiming he doesn't exist and that we have somehow lied. I do have a letter from the hospital stating David is the father. But I was told that under no circumstances can I have my husband's name on the birth certificate.

"I have to leave it blank which means my son will be classed as illegitimate. They want me to say he is illegitimate when I know I can prove he is not. I believe it is one of the last things I can do for my husband, to have his name on his son's certificate."

Her MP, Ms Shipley, said technology had outstripped the law in this case. "Mrs Jordan has gone through all the proper channels, everything about baby Daniel's conception was legal, and there was never a question of it being done without all the parties' consent.

"But she still cannot register Mr Jordan as the father of the baby. It is quite ridiculous."

Mrs Blood sparked an ethical debate when she fought to have her husband Stephen's, child, because he had not given his written consent. He died suddenly from meningitis in 1994, after which she persuaded a doctor to take a sperm sample which the HFEA then refused to allow her to use for insemination. Following a Court of Appeal ruling, she was allowed to be treated in Belgium, where she conceived her son.

For the woman who was accused of wanting a "memorial" as much as a baby, the Government's final recognition of her late husband's paternity will come as a welcome relief.