A British lesbian couple have succeeded in obtaining IVF on the NHS after initially being refused on the ground of being the same-sex, reported the Times newspaper last week. The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, threatened an NHS Trust with legal action after they were denied fertility treatment for one of the women who became infertile after developing polycystic ovaries. The couple sought advice from David Herbert, partner at law firm Lester Aldridge, and put legal pressure on the Trust to overturn its decision, which it did last June. 'Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is contrary to the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. There is an element of conflict in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 which requires clinics to consider a child's 'need for a father,' Herbert said.
The couple gained the support of the UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission and other equal rights organisations. Stonewall, a homosexual rights organisation, has published a guide for lesbians who wish to become pregnant in response to a number of enquiries about the issue. Commenting on this case, Ruth Hunt, who is head of policy at the charity, highlighted how the law will change once the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act comes into force. 'The changes in the law should mean that no infertile lesbian is refused NHS fertility treatment on the grounds of her sexual orientation,' she said.
The provision of IVF is currently partly regulated by the HFE Act 1990 which requires clinics when considering to provide treatment to take into account the child's 'need for a father'. This has been interpreted to deny homosexual couples and single parents IVF. As David Herbert explains: 'The 'need for a father' element is just about to be removed, by new provisions of the HFE Act 2008, on the grounds that it is discriminatory. The assessment will be for 'supportive parenting', which will come into force in October.' The Times reports that this is the second time the NHS has backed down following legal wrangling and offered lesbian couples IVF. Earlier this year a couple in Scotland sought legal advice and succeeded in persuading Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS Trust to reverse its decision to withhold fertility treatment.