Fertility preservation: Rachael Bland’s story

Last week, BBC presenter Rachael Bland’s fight to overcome her two-year breast cancer battle sadly came to an end. She was only 40 years old. She leaves behind her husband Steve and their young son Freddie. She also leaves behind four frozen embryos, following her battle to preserve her fertility.

Rachael shared her story on her blog Big C Little Me. She wrote compellingly about cancer and fertility saying on 19 February this year “Babies are probably not the first topic that springs to mind when you think about cancer but they were one of the first things I thought about after my diagnosis.  It’s another aspect of getting cancer that’s unique to being diagnosed when you’re young – the issue of what to do if you’ve not started or finished having a family”.

Rachael’s story will strike a chord with many women. She went to great lengths to preserve her fertility, even delaying chemotherapy to undergo an IVF cycle all over Christmas. She wrote on her blog “There are so many emotions to process when you’re first diagnosed and thinking about IVF as well might seem like a bridge too far.  But my advice would be to ask about fertility preservation, as you can give yourself some insurance pre-chemo but afterwards it might be a struggle.  You see, cancer treatment plays havoc with your fertility.  Chemotherapy targets fast-dividing cells, both the good and the bad and some of the fastest dividing are of course in your ovaries.  As a result, chemotherapy can leave you infertile and going into early menopause.  especially if you’re knocking on 40 like I was”.

Rachael’s four frozen embryos offered hope of another much wanted child had she overcome her battle with cancer. However, in undergoing IVF Rachael would also have completed consent forms at her UK fertility clinic stating her wishes for the storage and use of her embryos during her lifetime and in the event of her death. Depending upon her completion of these forms and her wishes, there might still be the possibility for her husband Steve to complete their family using these embryos in fertility treatment and surrogacy. 

As a fertility lawyer I have worked with many women over the last ten years who have been diagnosed with cancer and other serious medical conditions which have impaired or taken away their fertility and ability to carry a pregnancy. I have also worked with many women who have struggled to build a family in their late 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and seen the heartache caused by their diminishing fertility rates and unsuccessful fertility treatment cycles. As women increasingly delay starting a family into their 30’s and beyond, we need to do much more to proactively manage women’s fertility and its preservation. We need better education and more debate and awareness so women can make informed decisions and avoid crisis management.

You can read my further comment about fertility law and fertility preservation arising from Rachael’s story in my article in Female First.

Louisa Ghevaert features in The Lawyer Hot 100 2018 Career Quiz

I’m delighted to feature in The Lawyer Hot 100 Career Quiz 2018 for my cutting-edge fertility and family law practice. To read the full interview click here.

The Lawyer Hot 100 “celebrates the UK’s top lawyers: the ones acting on the most significant matters, disrupting the industry with their creative flair. It tracks exceptional individuals from private practice, in-house and the Bar”.

Now in its 17th year, The Laywer Hot 100 continues to showcase legal innovation, expertise and achievements in the field of law. Fertility and family law is rapidly evolving in the UK. It creates complex legal and wider issues and is often out-paced by the needs and expectations of people building modern families using assisted conception. People’s personal and family lives are incredibly varied and this area of work requires not only  extensive knowledge of the law but also understanding of individuals’ and their many motivations, pressures and experiences.

To read more about The Lawyer Hot 100 read my previous blog piece.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Trends in Fertility and Family Law

There have been a number of significant developments in UK fertility law, policy and practice in recent months and its association with family law.

On 15 December 2016 the HFEA approved the use of a new and innovative medical technique, which is known as mitochondrial donation. This could help around 15% of people affected by genetic diseases. UK fertility clinics can now apply to the HFEA for permission to use this technique in fertility treatment.

In February 2017, research from Harvard University found that women who work more than 40 hours a week may take 20 percent longer to get pregnant compared with women who work 21 – 40 hours a week. Their research found that lifting heavy loads several times a day may delay pregnancy by as much as 50 percent. It reported that physical strain lifting, 8 hours a day on your feet, working nightshifts and long hours at work may impair women’s pregnancy prospects. This prompted headlines that “female bankers are the least likely to conceive through IVF” and “women who work a lot may struggle to get pregnant”.

The spotlight then fell on UK fertility clinic practices. We read about “cash for eggs”, egg freezing, expensive “add-on” treatments and misleading sales pitches to fertility patients. Consequently, in May 2017 the HFEA investigated alleged breaches of its code of practice and announced it had taken enforcement action in September 2017.

Over the last year, women have been reminded not to be overly optimistic about getting pregnant in their late 30s and 40s. Companies like Apple and Facebook have started to offer fertility benefits including egg freezing to female employees. This has driven increased interest in egg freezing across the UK.

In May 2017, the HFEA issued a statement about egg freezing. It warned clinics to give accurate predictions about the chances of success, highlighting that data is limited and that available national data showed that the pregnancy rate is around 22% for women of all age groups.

A new style app, ‘Just A Baby’ launched in the UK in May 2017 bringing together prospective parents, co-parents, egg and sperm donors and surrogates. With potential candidates in your local area now just a swipe-away, it brings a new dimension to having a baby. Modern families and those formed through assisted conception represent more legally complex and difficult cases to manage and resolve. Deciding to start a family is a big step financially, practically, legally and emotionally. This makes it more important than ever before for modern families to have a strong legal foundation.

In September 2017 in a legal first, the English High Court awarded damages of £74,000 to a woman for surrogacy following a delay in detecting cancer in smear tests and biopsies. I gave expert evidence on fertility and family law issues in this case and it was a first-of-its kind award following complex court proceedings. It marked the meeting of medical negligence and fertility law in the UK and sparked debate about a new ‘fertility’ head of claim.

In December 2017, The Law Commission of England and Wales published its report on a 13th Programme of Law Reform. It announced it intends to review surrogacy law over the next 2-3 years to reach recommendations and potential draft legislation, taking the view surrogacy law is outdated, unclear and requires comprehensive reform.

In December 2017, the government also published a paper and draft remedial order to enable single people to apply for a parental order subject to meeting prescribed legal criteria. It is hoped this will pass into new law later this year.

Fertility law, policy and practice continues to evolve and this makes it important to understand and proactively manage the complex legal issues on a case by case basis.

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”.

 

Shortlisted by Family Law Awards 2013

I’m delighted to be shortlisted by Jordan’s Family Law Awards 2013 in the category of Most Innovative Family Lawyer of the Year.  This helps to further raise the profile of fertility law in the UK and its developing association with traditional family law and helps those struggling to have a much wanted family of their own.

The Family Law Awards recognise and celebrate the important work of leading family lawyers across the country.  The panel of judges includes the heads of leading practitioners bodies, journal editors and important legal figures.  Three of the awards, including ‘Most Innovative Family Lawyer of the Year’, are voted for by the general public. Please vote for me as every vote really counts.

I am committed to delivering an innovative and specialist fertility and family law service for fertility patients, children and families. This includes groundbreaking legal solutions for a variety of alternative family building options and parenting issues, including domestic and international surrogacy, donor conception, IVF, adoption, children and family disputes.

Voting for the Family Law Awards ends at midnight on Sunday 15 September 2013.   The winners will be announced at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 9 October 2013.

Maternity leave granted in surrogacy cases

The Government has recently announced that it will be introducing maternity leave in 2015 to parents through surrogacy. This is a step in the right direction although surrogacy law in the UK remains outdated and needs a thorough root and branch review.

From 2015, intended parents through surrogacy will be eligible for maternity pay and new flexible parental leave if they meet the legal requirements.  This follows a response to a consultation on modern workplaces run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The new proposals include making intended parents entitled to unpaid leave to attend up to two ante-natal appointments with their surrogate,  to share one year’s parental leave post birth between them as well as eligibility to maternity pay.  This will help to stop the plight of many intended parents who currently have to carry on working or resign from work to care for their baby, placing enormous stress on them and their family.

The Government’s proposals will be worked out in greater detail next year ahead of their introduction in 2015.  The announcement of these proposals gives intended parents through surrogacy greater legal recognition than ever before, although there is still much to be done to place family building through surrogacy on an equal footing with other family building options.

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.

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.