Back in 1997, Diane Blood became somewhat of a famous face in the media after winning a huge court battle against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). She was the first person in the world to be allowed to be inseminated by her dead husband’s sperm.
Going back a further two years, Diane’s husband, Stephen Blood, developed meningitis. The married couple had been trying to have children for two months before Stephen was struck down with a severe form of the infection, leaving him in a coma. Diane desperately wanted her husband’s child and requested that, despite the fact he was not conscious to give consent, they extract a semen sample from him to be frozen for future use. I know what you are thinking, sounds a bit odd, right? However, Diane maintains that this was actually what Stephen wished to happen in the event of such a tragedy, and this was one of her main arguments in battling the HFEA.
With the laws in place, Diane was at the time banned from using her husband’s sperm without his written consent (which obviously couldn’t be provided considering his state). However, there was a loophole in Diane’s case – strictly speaking, the sperm should never have been extracted from Stephen in the first place due to a lack on consent at this stage, meaning that the posthumous storage of his sperm was illegal. However, since this law had already been broken and the sperm was already available, the court said that in this unique case Diane should be allowed to see fertility treatment, so long as it was elsewhere in the European Community, as it was a better option than merely binning his sperm.
Eventually, a clinic in Brussels agreed to give Diane the fertility treatment and she gave birth to her first son, Liam, in 1998, followed by her second son, Joel, in 2002. However, as this case was a first, there were no laws in place regarding parentage on the birth certificate when the parent is deceased before conception. This meant that initially Stephen could not be recognised as the children’s father legally. However, Diane made constitutional history by aiding the creation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Act in December 2003, meaning she was allowed to re-register her children’s births accordingly.
Although the legal and political issues surrounding this case are so evidently rife, I think it’s important to note the obvious social and ethical issues here, particularly when looking at the impact on Liam and Joel Blood. Obviously there are many children who lost a parent when they were very young, but these are the first ever children with one living parent at conception. This could be quite difficult for them to deal with –their mum is now a pretty well-known household name, so it would be difficult for them to hide their origins from the rest of the world. At the end of the day, whilst there was no written consent from Stephen that this was what he wanted, I highly doubt that Diane would be crazy enough to devise this elaborate story just to have a child. Many children grow up with one parent, so it should be fine if the children are well educated and informed about the story behind their conception – leaving them in the dark would be the worst thing to do. I think that, although it was illegal in the first place, if Stephen’s family were happy for the fertilisation to occur, then it was the best option to use the sperm rather than dispose of it.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/6/newsid_2536000/2536119.stm (The 1997 BBC news page from when Diane was originally successful)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1415520/Diane-Blood-wins-her-long-battle.html (News page from Diane’s success with recognising Stephen as her children’s father)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1809296.stm (News page from Diane’s second child)
http://www.hfea.gov.uk/3247.html (Chief Executive’s letter stating his decision on allowed Diane access to the sperm in an EU clinic)
Main image obtained from Daily Mail.