Sheffield fertility clinic blunder slammed by top judge

Court news
Court news

A Sheffield fertility clinic has been slammed by a top judge for its insensitive treatment of a couple left ‘devastated’ by an administrative blunder.

Sir James Munby, the country’s most senior family judge, said it had taken CARE Sheffield months to apologise for the couple’s needless suffering.

The couple had a longed-for baby after IVF treatment at the clinic on Glen Road, Nether Edge, in 2009 and did not realise anything was wrong until years later.

But, due to a change in the law before the birth, it turned out they had signed the wrong type of consent form.

The form wrongly stated the man’s sperm had been used – when in fact there had been an anonymous donor.

The father’s name appeared on the child’s birth certificate but the errors put in doubt his right to call himself his child’s legal parent, said Sir James.

The judge came to the couple’s rescue, putting right the clinic’s mistakes and formally recognising the father’s parental status.

Sir James said the mother had been ‘beside herself’ and felt ‘physically sick’ when telephoned with the bad news by the clinic, .

The father said he was ‘totally devastated’ and told London’s High Court, “I was totally numb and shocked”.

For a while it looked like the only option would be for the man to adopt the child.

Sir James said: “Unhappily, the couple did not receive from the clinic the support they were entitled to look for.”

The mother recalled being told her partner’s name should never have gone on the birth certificate and that the child’s father should have been recorded as ‘unknown’.

The judge added: “They are critical of the clinic’s handling of the problem which, after all, it had created”.

The child’s court appointed guardian said the clinic’s actions ‘appeared defensive and insensitive’.

“She described the comment about the birth certificate as ‘not only factually incorrect but most terribly hurtful’,” said the judge.

A letter the clinic sent to the couple in June 2014 ‘contained not a single word of apology or regret’, he added.

Only in January last year did the clinic for the first time issue an ‘anaemic’ apology for what the couple were going through.

Sir James said: “The clinic’s behaviour is by no means the worst I have seen.

“But it was, nonetheless, seriously deficient and, in my judgment, deserving of the criticisms voiced by the couple and by the guardian”.

The judge ruled that the consent form the couple signed was sufficient to allow the father’s recognition as a legal parent.

And the mistake about the source of the sperm used in conceiving the child was so ‘obvious’ it had to be put right.