A widow who wants to become pregnant with her late husband’s sperm had her hopes dashed by a British court Thursday because she does not have his written permission.
Diane Blood, 30, wept in the High Court when she heard she could not use the sperm taken from her husband, Stephen, as he lay hospitalized in a coma nearly two years ago.
“We planned a baby before he died,” Blood told reporters afterwards. “I don’t see why my life as I planned it should have ended.”
The case, the first of its kind in Britain, has sparked a widespread debate on the ethics of artificial insemination.
Stephen Blood died in March 1995 after contracting bacterial meningitis and falling into a coma. While he was comatose and on a life-support machine, Blood asked doctors to take samples of his sperm, which now are stored at a hospital in Sheffield, 160 miles north of London.
The regulatory Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority ruled it is unlawful for Blood to be inseminated with her husband’s sperm without his written authorization.
Blood took the case to the high court, where her chief attorney, Lord Lester, argued there was clear evidence her husband had approved of artificial insemination and wanted children. He said the authority had taken an “unduly narrow approach” by requiring written consent.
But Sir Stephen Brown, president of the Family Division of the High Court, upheld the authority’s decision as lawful, even though he said he could empathize with Blood.
“My heart goes out to this applicant,” the judge said.
Brown said Britain’s 1991 law regulating the use of stored sperm was particularly strict “because the whole field of artificial insemination with sperm obtained from a man who subsequently died was and is highly sensitive and ethically controversial.”
Brown said the law also prohibits Blood from taking the sperm abroad: Doctors in Belgium and the United States had agreed to perform the artificial insemination.
Ruth Deech, head of the authority, insisted that “consent must be given in any procedure relating to the production of a future generation.”
Richard Stein, who also represented Blood, said he would take the case to the Court of Appeal, Britain’s second highest judicial body.
“If I win my case, it is up to God whether I succeed medically,” Blood said. “I just feel the whole system is unjust to put me through this.”
Lord Winston, a professor of fertility studies at Hammersmith Hospital, said he did not believe Parliament intended the law to have this effect.
“Had this woman been inseminated when her husband was unconscious on a life support machine, there would have been no problem,” Winston told BBC Radio 4.
“Moreover, the man could have donated his kidneys, his lungs, his heart and every other organ without any informed consent, but is not able to give his sperm to his wife. That seems ridiculous.”