New rights for babies conceived 'after death'

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The Independent Online

Babies conceived from the frozen sperm of their dead father will no longer be considered "illegitimate" under reforms to be announced by the Government today.

Babies conceived from the frozen sperm of their dead father will no longer be considered "illegitimate" under reforms to be announced by the Government today.

Such children will be allowed to have the name of their father on their birth certificate for the first time, the Department of Health will declare.

It will also allow women such as Diane Blood - who has already had such a child - to put the father's name on the birth certificate retroactively.

Ministers will announce that they will change the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which says a child conceived posthumously is legally "fatherless".

However, they will upset some campaigners by refusing to extend inheritance or succession rights to the children and will insist that the father's name should be followed by the word "deceased".

The Department will also make clear that women will not be allowed to remove sperm posthumously without their partners' written consent.

The proposals follow the case of Mrs Blood, who was forced by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to go abroad to use the sperm of her dead husband, Stephen, in fertility treatment.

Mrs Blood convinced the Appeal Court that she should be allowed to receive treatment in Belgium and gave birth to a son in 1998. Yet she was told that her baby, Liam, had no legal right to have his father's name on his birth certificate because Mr Blood was not alive at the time of the birth. She was told to leave it blank or to write "father unknown" instead.

The number of posthumous conceptions has risen steadily in the UK in the last few years, putting pressure on ministers to come up with better guidance or a change in the law.

The announcement is expected to endorse the main recommendations of a report by Sheila McLean, a professor of law and ethics in medicine at the University of Glasgow.

Professor McLean was commissioned by the last government to produce a detailed report into the issue of posthumous conceptions. She recommended that women should not be allowed to repeat Mrs Blood's actions, although they should be allowed retroactive permission to put the fathers' names on the certificates.

Some campaigners for posthumous conception rights will be cheered by the announcement, although they will be disappointed that full inheritance rights will not be granted.

Ministers, who have spent months reviewing the public responses to Professor McLean's report, have decided to make their announcement today in the hope of gaining sufficient time for legislation in the next session of Parliament.

Options devised by the Department of Health will also look at the possibility of altering a 1953 Act of Parliament covering the registration of births.

The move to name the father on the birth certificate will represent a major victory for MPs such as Debra Shipley, the Labour MP for Stourbridge, who raised the issue on behalf of Marian Jordan.

Mrs Jordan was refused permission to register her late husband, David, as the father on the birth certificate because he died before the baby, Daniel, was conceived.

But the idea of changing the law is also likely to upset many of the religious and morality groups vehemently opposed to the idea of widow's giving birth years after their husband's deaths.