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Blundering clinics deny IVF children legal parents

To any parent the thought that they could be stripped of their parenthood is simply unimaginable. Knowing who your parents are is a matter of fundamental importance to every child.

In February 2014 the HFEA requested that all licensed fertility clinics undertake an audit of the records of couples who were not married or in a civil partnership at the time of treatment and who conceived a child using donor sperm. What was found was that almost half of all clinics in the UK had made errors with taking parents’ consent to being treated as the legal parent of their child – widespread administrative incompetence with the most serious of consequences.

Many parents, and the true number may probably not yet known, were told they were not in fact the legal parents of their child.

Each family intended and believed that both parents were the legal parents of their children at the time of treatment and birth, having thought they had complied with the relevant legal requirements. However, in each case the clinic had made administrative errors and it was not for months and, in some cases, years after the child had been born that the families were notified by the clinics that, due to an anomaly in the completion of consent to parenthood forms prior to treatment, they were not in fact the legal parents of their children. This has been described by the President of the Family Division as “alarming and shocking”.

These parents were left confused and distressed about the uncertainty over their status as a parent and the devastating impact that this would have on their family unit. Many parents described feelings of anguish, fear and despair. Of the parents I have met and spoken to, many had spent years trying to start a family and had been through multiple rounds of intrusive fertility treatment. They longed for a child and to be parents. They were devastated and heartbroken about the situation they had found themselves in.

Almost all families that I have spoken to were advised that the only way that they could remedy the error and be treated in law as a parent was to adopt their own child.

This was simply unacceptable to all of the families that I spoke to, it being an order that would change their child’s identity and the legal relationship between parent and child for the rest of their lives. Adoption was simply not an option that most families were prepared to consider.

On behalf of the families I represented we made applications for a declaration of parentage to confirm their status as a parent and to put them back in the position they thought they were in. Each application was successful – the effect of this being immense, not only for the families involved in the case, but for many of the other families also affected by these errors.

Parents also described their strong feelings of anger towards the clinic and what has unfortunately exacerbated the distress for parents in some cases, and which is simply unacceptable, is the way in which they have then been treated by the clinics after the mistakes have been identified. There have been two recent judgments in which the conduct of the clinic towards the parents after the mistakes had been identified which has been seriously criticised by the Court and correspondence sent to one family being described as “crass and insensitive”.

Lessons need to be learned from these judgments. These are families who are in this situation through no fault of their own. They have done everything that was asked of them and believed that they had done everything right. They had put their trust in the professionals. Each and every family in this situation deserves to be treated carefully and sensitively and helped by their clinic to remedy the problem ameliorating as far as possible the distress that the family will undoubtedly be feeling.

Author: Jemma Dally

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