Posthumous conception: a ray of hope for the future

I was proud to be part of the wife’s specialist fertility law team in the groundbreaking case of Y v A Healthcare NHS Trust & The HFEA & Z (by his litigation friend, The Official Solicitor) [2018] EWCOP 18.  In a unique legal ruling, The Court  of Protection (‘COP’) sanctioned the extraction, storage and posthumous use of the husband’s sperm following an accident and catastrophic injury.

The husband and wife had wanted to conceive a child and were in the early stages of fertility treatment, when he was involved in a tragic accident that caused a devastating brain injury. It was doubtful whether the husband had given his written consent to the storage and use of his sperm in fertility treatment in the legally required form, although he had discussed and agreed with his wife that his sperm should be used by her in fertility treatment and in the event of his death.

Only a fertility clinic licensed by the HFEA could extract and store his sperm and that could only be achieved with his effective consent.  Section 4(1A) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 prohibits the procurement, testing, processing or distribution of sperm without a licence.  Very sadly, the husband’s brain injury left him without capacity to provide the required consent.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (‘HFEA’) had no legal powers to authorise the retrieval, storage and posthumous use of the husband’s sperm in treatment in the UK.  The wife was unable to rely on the assistance of the Human Tissue Authority as sperm and eggs are specifically excluded from its remit under the Human Tissue Act 2004.  Furthermore, there was no case law which covered this situation.

Wanting to honour her husband’s wishes and family building plans, the wife applied to the COP for permission for the retrieval, storage and posthumous use of his sperm.  This was a groundbreaking move because the COP had never before been involved in a posthumous conception context.  The COP’s jurisdiction usually covers assistance with property, financial matters and decisions about personal welfare for people who lack capacity to make decisions for themselves.

The COP used powers under the Mental Health Act 2005 to reach a judgment that it was in the husband’s best interests for his sperm to be retrieved, stored and used by the wife in posthumous treatment in the UK.  The COP took into account all of the facts of the case and relied on evidence that the husband and wife had discussed and agreed his sperm should be used in fertility treatment and in the event of his death, they had been referred for fertility treatment and were under the care of a fertility clinician and had booked a further clinic appointment.

The case shines a light on the importance of taking ownership of your fertility and conception plans in the short, medium and longer term.  There are no guarantees in life and no one is immune from the risk of illness, injury, accidents or changes in personal situations which can have a fundamental impact on your or a loved one’s fertility.  Moreover, the law is complex and it does not always protect people or their future family building wishes.  Specialist fertility law advice can help you make informed decisions and proactively protect and maximise your fertility and family building arrangements.

Surrogacy, relationship breakdown and modern families

AB v CD, EF, GH & IJ [2018] EWHC 1590 (Fam) is a first-of-its-kind case, in which I acted for the intended mother of  twins born in India in 2010. The Court had to grapple with legal status and identity of  parents and children when families created through surrogacy encounter serious domestic violence, relationship breakdown, divorce and restructure by remarriage in the absence of parental orders.

AB  v CD, EF, GH & IJ [2018] highlights how the needs of modern families founded through assisted conception and surrogacy outstrip existing law in the UK. Ultimately in this case, the Court was unable to fully resolve the legal status of the twins, their biological parents, the Indian surrogate and her husband or the children’s stepfather.

Instead, the Court had to make practical arrangements to secure the day-to-day upbringing of the children in the care of their biological mother and their stepfather; arrangements shaped by the special needs of one of the children and serious findings of domestic violence against their biological father.  The Court made the children wards of court and made child arrangements orders in favour of the biological mother and stepfather.  It also made no order for contact between the children and their biological father, dismissed his application for parental responsibility and restricted the exercise of parental responsibility by the surrogate and her husband.

In doing so, the Court recognized that those arrangements ‘fall very short of the transformative effect of a parental order’.

You can read more about the case here – http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed190618.

Louisa Ghevaert Honoured in The Lawyer Hot 100 List 2018

I am delighted to be included in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 List 2018 for my groundbreaking work in the field of fertility and family law.

The Lawyer states its Hot 100 2018 List ‘is not simply about who has done the most or the biggest deals…. It recognises management figures leading their firm with vision, team leaders who have sparked incredible growth … litigators on groundbreaking cases”. Individuals included in The Lawyer Hot 100 List ‘must have star quality’. Each year, The Lawyer receives many hundreds of nominations and it ‘gathers together the best lawyers in the UK – the most daring, innovative and creative’.

It is a privilege to receive this accolade and feature in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 List 2018 in recognition of my work in the legal and medical sectors. This includes my role in delivering groundbreaking expert evidence in complex medical negligence proceedings in the High Court in the case of XX v Whittington Hospital NHS Trust [2017] EWHC 2318 (QB).  This first of its kind judgment secured the first ever UK damages award for surrogacy and represents the cross-section of medical negligence and fertility law and practice in the UK.

My specialist practice transcends both the legal and medical sectors. I am a specialist contributor on surrogacy law in leading legal reference book The International Family Law Practice (Fifth Edition, December 2016-17). I am also co-author of medical reference book Reducing Risk in Fertility Treatment (First Edition, April 2015).

I remain committed to contributing to the future landscape of the law and legal services in the UK. This includes raising awareness and understanding of complex fertility, parenting and family law issues which underpin assisted conception and fertility treatment, modern families and complex medical negligence cases with a gynaecological and fertility dimension.

The Lawyer’s Hot 100 List lists specific practice areas, which identify the most outstanding lawyers in their fields. To read more click here.

Fertility and Family Law in Action

The last 12 months has been a busy year on the fertility law front. Fertility law and practice and its association with family law has continued to evolve, both nationally and internationally.

We’ve seen evolution of policy and practice around the importance of giving informed consent to fertility treatment at UK fertility clinics licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Informed consent to fertility treatment is one of the most important principles of healthcare.  It is designed to protect fertility patients, children and others involved in fertility treatment and more needs to be done to improve understanding of the legal issues and implications of assisted conception and management of this in practice.  In September 2015, the English High Court highlighted the very real difficulties that arise when informed consent to fertility treatment falls short, which left eight couples embroiled in legal parenthood proceedings following fertility treatment and the birth of their children and highlighted a further 75 similar cases.

We’ve also seen continued debate about surrogacy law and practice. My work as a member of the Surrogacy UK Working Group on Surrogacy Law Reform and the publication of its report Myth Busting and Reform in November 2015 sheds valuable light on the current practice of surrogacy in the UK and sets out recommendations for reform.

UK industry recognition for fertility and family law is to be welcomed. I was delighted to be awarded recognition by Chambers & Partners UK 2016. This helps raise awareness and promote the importance of fertility law in the UK.  Assisted conception can raise many complex legal and practical issues in the context of increasingly challenging family building expectations and demands of modern day living.  Assisted conception can be daunting and fertility law is not always ‘a good fit’ in practice. The provision of skilled fertility law advice helps place children born through assisted conception and their families on a secure legal footing and provides valuable support and protection if problems arise.

Fertility, parenting and family law issues have continued to feature in the media. Over the last 12 months I have contributed to public debate and provided legal commentary on BBC World Service radio and BBC Radio London, as well as in the Independent, the Guardian, the Times and legal and fertility sector press. I have also lectured on fertility, parenting and family law issues in the UK and delivered a lecture overseas in Chicago, USA, at the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys Fall Conference 2015.

BBC Radio London Interview: Solo Father Through Surrogacy Awarded Adoption Order

I was delighted to be interviewed on BBC London 94.9 ‘Have Your Say’ programme with Vanessa Feltz this morning following the English High Court’s landmark decision to grant a solo father through surrogacy an adoption order. The English High Court described the case as ‘highly unusual’ and the law as a ‘legal minefield’.

The single man became a solo father through surrogacy after his mother carried a surrogate pregnancy for him.  He conceived the baby (with his own sperm and a donor egg), now 8 months old, with the full support of his mother and father and following fertility treatment at a UK licensed fertility clinic. The solo father’s mother stepped in and carried the baby when he was unable to proceed with another female relative due to medical complications.

Under UK fertility law, the solo father’s mother and her husband were the baby’s legal parents at birth and were named as such on his initial British birth certificate.  This meant that the baby and his intended solo father were treated as having the same legal parents and regarded as legal brothers. It was not illegal under UK law for the solo father to enter into a surrogacy arrangement and conceive a child through surrogacy.  However, he was not eligible for a parental order (the legal solution for surrogacy in the UK which reassigns legal parenthood to intended parents) due to public policy restrictions which prevent single people from accessing the parental order regime.  Only couples are eligible to apply for a parental order. As a result, the solo father applied to the English Court for an adoption order to be legally recognised as his baby’s legal father.

In the first legal case of its kind, the English High Court ruled that it was in the baby’s best interests for an adoption order to be awarded in his solo father’s favour.  The case was supported by social services and followed careful consideration of child welfare issues, counselling and ethics assessment and approval at the UK licensed fertility clinic where treatment took place.  The case involved complex legal issues and required very careful navigation because of a range of complex legal restrictions and offences set out in our domestic adoption and children law. The English Court ruled that it would not break the law to award the solo father an adoption order because he and his baby were ‘relatives’ in law.

In the fact specific circumstances of this case, the solo father successfully obtained an adoption order in respect of his baby.  However,  this case highlights the very real legal difficulties faced by single people who are ineligible to apply for a parental order, particularly those who do not have a relative willing to carry a surrogate pregnancy for them. English law also remains a minefield for those undertaking surrogacy abroad.

With increasing numbers of people turning to surrogacy as a family building option of choice, there has never been a greater need to get to grips with the relevant issues and improve awareness.  Surrogacy can raise a whole host of tricky issues associated with developments in assisted reproductive technology, donor conception and inter-generational family building.  Surrogacy becomes even more complicated when people’s family building plans do not fit neatly into the confines of UK fertility law. Family life in the UK and family building expectations are evolving rapidly. There are inherent tensions and conflicts between the positions of intended parents, surrogates, donors and surrogate born children which create a complex legal picture.  Assisted reproduction is here to stay, but there is still much to be done to improve understanding and protect and support adults, children and families alike.

To listen to the whole interview click here.

Louisa Ghevaert recognised as leading expert in UK fertility and parenting law

I’m delighted to be ranked by Chambers and Partners UK Guide 2015 as a leading legal expert in surrogacy, fertility and parenting law.

Chambers & Partners identifies and ranks the most outstanding law firms and lawyers in the UK and in over 180 jurisdictions throughout the world. Their Guides are trusted by clients across the globe when they need to find a reliable and capable legal expert. Chambers UK Guide covers 50 cities and counties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and its rankings are the result of in-depth discussions and interviews with both lawyers and clients.

Chambers and Partners UK 2015: says about Louisa Ghevaert

“Louisa Ghevaert is a recognised expert in surrogacy, fertility and parenting law matters.  She has experience in dealing with complex parenting matters, particularly those with an international element”.

This follows on from my ranking in Chambers and Partners UK 2014 edition which said “sources describe her as an expert in a very difficult and specialised area of the law – she knows her subject extremely well and gives knowledgeable and sensible advice”.

 

Elizabeth Banks welcomes second surrogate son

Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Banks, 38, has hit the headlines again this week following the announcement of the birth of her second surrogate born son.

Baby Magnus joined older surrogate born brother Felix, aged 20 months, at her home earlier this week.  Elizabeth said “As 2012 winds down and Thanksgiving approaches, I have much for which to be thankful – personal, professional and Presidential.  However, nothing can match the joy and excitement my husband and I felt when we recently welcomed our second baby boy, Magnus Mitchell Handelman.  Like Felix, Magnus was born via a gestational surrogate. This experience has exceeded all expectations, taught us a great deal about generosity and gratitude, and established a relationship that will last a lifetime.”

Elizabeth captured the hearts of many following her honest account of her own battle with infertility and her and her husband’s decision to turn to surrogacy for the birth of their first son, Felix.  Elizabeth quickly became a role model for those looking to build families of their own through surrogacy with her sensitive approach to infertility and her decision to speak so openly and honestly about her own journey to parenthood through surrogacy.

Earlier this week, Elizabeth went on to say “I am also so very thankful to our family and friends for their support throughout this process, as well as the Center for Surrogate Parenting for helping make all this possible.  I now turn my attention to managing two boys under two. For which I am thankful.  And all their poop. For which I am less thankful. Wish me luck”.

Celebrity endorsement of surrogacy by people like Elizabeth continues to help raise the profile of surrogacy.  Elizabeth has publicly given an honest and positive experience of the process and the joy it has brought to her and those around her.  Her story helps to give hope to others battling infertility and shows that surrogacy can deliver the life-changing gift of a child.

Three reasons why surrogacy can go wrong

Surrogacy offers hope of a much wanted family to many.  It can bring immense happiness and joy.  However, it can be a risky business and not all experiences are positive.

Your surrogate fails to give valid consent

A landmark legal case in the English High Court decided earlier this month, D and L (Minors) (Surrogacy) 2012, illustrates the problems that can happen when a surrogate mother fails to co-operate and relinquish her legal status for the child.  In D and L, a  UK gay couple applied for parental orders for their twin boys, conceived with the help of an Indian surrogate mother through a clinic in Hyderabad, India.  They never met their Indian surrogate mother, dealing instead with the Indian clinic directly.  The couple were unable to obtain signed forms from their Indian surrogate mother consenting  to the grant of parental orders to enable them to become the twins’ legal parents under UK law. Their Indian clinic refused to help secure their surrogate’s written consent and the couple were unable to trace her themselves after the twins’ birth.  All they received was a package in the post, containing a single sheet of paper with an obscene gesture on it.

The couple did everything they could to comply with UK legal requirements and they were badly let down by their clinic. Following complex court proceedings, the judge eventually granted them parental orders and dispensed with the requirement for the legal consent of their surrogate who could not be found.  The judge did, however, issue a warning that future intended parents should learn the lesson that clear lines of communication with their surrogate are established to ensure they can obtain the necessary consent after the six week cooling off period post birth.

Your surrogate has a change of heart

Although rare, a surrogate mother sometimes has a change of heart and decides she wishes to keep the baby.  This can happen for a variety of reasons and if a dispute arises, it creates difficult and challenging legal proceedings and the court will make a decision in the best interests of the child.  As surrogacy agreements are not legally binding in the UK, this creates tension between the rights of surrogate mothers and intended parents.

The pregnancy is unsuccessful

Sadly, not all surrogate pregnancies result in a live birth.  This can be devastating for all involved and it raises difficult issues.  This can hit home even harder in circumstances where intended parents have already had a long and difficult fertility journey.

With so many risks, there is no substitute for obtaining expert legal advice, working with reputable clinics and agencies and maintaining direct links with the surrogate throughout the process.

Mother in surrogacy case fights legal battle for maternity rights

An intended mother from Kent is taking legal action against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for the same maternity rights as adoptive parents.

The woman has taken her case to the High Court arguing that she has been discriminated against under The Human Rights Act.  She is arguing that the Government has failed to ensure respect for intended parents’ private and family life in surrogacy cases and that the Government has a positive obligation to avoid discrimination.

The woman and her husband conceived with the help of a surrogate and IVF last year.  When she approached her employer for information about maternity rights and entitlement, her employer advised her that they were under no legal obligation to allow her time off work to care for her child, although they finally offered her a year’s unpaid leave as a gesture of goodwill.

The woman then contacted her local MP, who forwarded her request for help with obtaining paid maternity leave to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  The Department of Work & Pensions is understood to have refused to help saying that maternity benefits were related to “time off in the later stages of pregnancy and [to] prepare for, and recover from, childbirth in the interests of health and that of their baby”.  The woman queried their response highlighting that leave is given for adoptive parents.

Sadly, having accepted the offer of unpaid leave, the woman was made redundant shortly after the birth of her baby son.  As she did not qualify for maternity leave, her unpaid leave was not legally protected.

Parents of surrogate born children should have the same legal rights and protection as other parents.  The current lack of legal protection can cause immense hardship for intended parents, who can face financial difficulties and worries about job security or even job loss.  This sends out a worrying message that parents and children born through surrogacy are second class citizens and this needs to change.  Current surrogacy laws in the UK are outdated and there needs to be a root and branch overhaul to make them fit for the twenty first century.

Fertility and Parenting law team shortlisted for The Law Society’s 2012 Excellence Award in Innovation

I am delighted that my team and  have been shortlisted for the Law Society’s 2012 Excellence Award in Innovation.

This recognizes our cutting-edge, pioneering and innovative legal work helping people all over the world build families through fertility treatment, international and UK surrogacy, donor conception including known donation and co-parenting, as well as our work concerning family, children and parenting disputes.

The Law Society’s prestigious awards ceremony recognizes excellence across the legal profession and outstanding contributions from solicitors and their teams.  Winners will be announced at a black tie event on 18 October at Old Billingsgate, London.

 

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