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White couple win black IVF twins

The case was Britain's first involving an IVF mix-up.
The case was Britain's first involving an IVF mix-up.

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Black twins born to a white couple after an IVF sperm mix-up will stay with the family, a judge said on Wednesday in a case that could have widespread implications for Britain's burgeoning fertility industry.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said the black man whose sperm was mistakenly used instead of that of the mother's husband to produce the children was effectively the legal father but said there was no question of the twins being removed.

Butler-Sloss, Britain's top female judge, said the human rights of the twins to respect for family life with their biological mother and her husband, known as Mr. and Mrs. A, could be met by Mr. A adopting the children.

"Although they lose the immediate certainty of the irrebuttable presumption that Mr. A is their legal father, they will remain with their loving, stable and secure home," she said in a complicated ruling delivered at London's High Court.

The case raised a myriad of unprecedented issues about legal parentage and medical negligence and was closely watched for any impact on the fertility industry.

While laboratory errors have occurred in other countries, the twins' case was the first time Britain had been faced with such a blunder.

Worldwide there have been two other recorded cases of mistakes in which a mother gave birth to babies of an unexpected race after fertility treatment.

In 1999, a black baby was born to a white couple because of an embryo mix-up at a New York clinic. In that case the couple was ordered to return the boy to the biological parents.

But in 1997 in the Netherlands, a woman who had treatment and gave birth to twins with different fathers -- one was her husband and one was not -- was allowed to keep them both.

Closed doors

The British case has been heard in closed court and was surrounded by strict reporting restrictions. The exact age of the twins has not been disclosed but the judge made some other details public at the start of proceedings last year.

Butler-Sloss said the incident happened at the Assisted Conception Unit at Leeds General Infirmary, northern England, where the two couples involved had sought treatment.

Mrs. A became pregnant and gave birth to twins but the babies' skin colour made it clear there had been a mix-up.

The black couple, known as Mr. and Mrs. B, have not publicly indicated whether they would seek parental rights but Mr B had asked the court to rule on his rights and responsibilities.

While the case was a first for Britain and attracted widespread media coverage, other mix-ups involving In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) have since emerged.

In October, a London hospital said a labelling mistake led to two women becoming implanted with the wrong embryos. The women, who were undergoing treatment at St. George's Hospital, had to have the embryos removed.

The authority responsible for hospitals in Leeds has expressed deep regret for the twins incident and said it had reviewed its procedures.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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