Cancer Death Leads to Anguished Embryology Test Case

British rules concerning human embryology and fertilisation are well known to be amongst the toughest in the world. In one tragic case, the High Court dashed a middle-aged mother’s hopes of giving birth to her own grandchild following her daughter’s death from cancer.

Before she succumbed to bowel cancer at the age of 28, the daughter had some of her eggs frozen. Her parents said that it had been her dying wish that her mother, aged 58, should be implanted with one or more of her eggs, after their fertilisation by an anonymous sperm donor, so that she could give posthumous birth to her baby.

Such a procedure was not permissible in the UK, so the parents applied three times to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for special permission to export the eggs to a treatment centre in New York where the regulatory regime was less strict. Their applications were rejected on grounds that the necessary written consents had not been obtained during the daughter’s lifetime.

In dismissing the parents’ judicial review challenge, the Court acknowledged that their aim was to honour their daughter’s memory and that its decision would add to their distress. However, the HFEA had correctly applied the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Act 1990. Its decision was neither irrational nor did it breach the mother’s human right to respect for her family life.