Autor: Ian Johnston Fuente: Scotsman.com


• Eminent gynaecologist says women in Scotland have had children born to the wrong fathers because of clinics’ errors

• Californian awarded £550,000 after such a mistake; a couple are suing for custody of her child

• Doctor says parents are always told immediately of mistakes in UK, and generally ‘take it well’

WOMEN who have had infertility treatment in Scotland have had children born to the wrong fathers because of mistakes at IVF clinics, an eminent Scottish gynaecologist said yesterday.

The admission comes in the wake of a case in the United States that highlighted legal and ethical dilemmas surrounding advances in medical science.

Susan Buchweitz, a Californian who gave birth at the age of 48, won £550,000 in damages this week from a clinic that implanted the wrong embryo in her womb. The intended recipients, an unidentified married couple, are suing for custody of the child, who is now three.

The president of the British Fertility Society, Dr John Mills, a gynaecologist since 1968 and lecturer at St Andrews University, said he was aware of similar cases in this country but added that patients generally took the news "extremely well".

In the Buchweitz case, the clinic allegedly realised what had happened within minutes, but decided to keep the mistake a secret.

An anonymous tip-off to the Medical Board of California led to all parties finding out the truth.

Dr Mills said he understood the distress caused by errors such as that with Ms Buchweitz, where an egg fertilised by sperm from the wrong father is implanted in a woman’s womb. "It’s very, very hurtful. But it’s only in very few cases that this has happened [here] and the various people in the case have been told," he said.

"We acknowledge a child will have a need to know who his parents were. If there’s been a mistake it is very wise that all the adults involved know about it so, when a suitable time comes, an approach can be made to the child.

"In general terms, duplicity and deceit tend to lead to more trouble at the end of the day."

Dr Mills said parents were generally quite understanding.

"I’ve been around for quite a long time and have been aware of mistakes occurring - partly because of the positions I’ve held when people let me know if mistakes occur. Patients take it extremely well, very well indeed. About one in ten of everyone born has got it [the identity of their father] wrong anyway and there are other children who, for whatever reason, can never know their father."

He defended IVF treatment, but said "mistakes can result in medicine at any time".

He said: "IVF has become a highly effective treatment and a very common one. The number of mistakes is very, very small.

"Clearly, society wishes there to be no mistakes at all, but medicine isn’t like that. When you get to this sort of thing, it becomes terribly emotive."

In the US case, the married couple are seeking permanent custody of the boy. A family-court judge has granted Ms Buchweitz temporary custody and given the husband, as the biological father, twice-weekly custody. The issue of how the couple and Ms Buchweitz will divide his care in the future is to be decided in October.

Ms Buchweitz said: "There is no psychology book that says how to do this. They [the couple] don’t accept me as my son’s mother, and that hurts."

Ms Buchweitz, who is single, had intended to become pregnant using anonymous egg and sperm donors. The medical staff involved in her treatment - Dr Steven Katz and embryologist Imam El-Danasouri - are said not to have told her of the mix-up because they feared she would have an abortion and probably would not be able to have another child, given her age.

They also predicted that the couple would sue for custody.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "This case has many losers, but the real victim is the child. For three decades the Catholic Church has pointed out to scientists that procedures which are technically possible are not necessarily morally ethical.

"The whole IVF business involves the destruction of countless unwanted embryos, and in this case, even an embryo which has been allowed to come to term is facing a nightmarish start to life."

Dr Katz, writing about ethics in general in a medical journal last year, said: "Science can move ahead very quickly. However, ethical standards don’t often develop as rapidly."
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