15 February 2010
Author of 'Making Babies the Hard Way: Living with Infertility and Treatment'Appeared in BioNews 545
Flesh and Blood: The Human Story Behind the Headlines
Published by Mainstream Publishing
ISBN-10: 1840189118, ISBN-13: 978-1840189117
Buy this book from Amazon UK
Stephen Blood died in 1995, following the sudden onset of bacterial meningitis. His widow, just twenty-eight years old, hit the headlines after fighting for the right to use his sperm to conceive their child. The sperm had been extracted from him, at his wife's request, whilst he lay in a coma. Stephen and Diane Blood had been together for 12 years and had been trying to conceive long before he fell ill. Prior to his illness, and somewhat unusually, they had read a newspaper article about posthumous conception and made a verbal agreement that Diane should use his sperm to try to have their children in the event of his death. Crucially, he had not given consent in writing, which was required by law, in order for his widow to carry out their agreement without delay or outside interference.
I met Diane Blood in 2008 at an Infertility Network (IN UK) event where we were both guest speakers. I had been aware of her case, but only through media reports and from the subsequent amendments to UK Fertility Law and HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) guidelines.
Flesh and Blood was published in 2004 and tells 'the human story behind the headlines'. It charts, in detail, her journey from Stephen's sudden death; through the decision to allow her to export his sperm to Belgium for treatment in 1998 and her second son's birth in 2002; to finally winning the right to have her husband's name inserted on their sons' birth certificate in 2003.
I cannot imagine having either the presence of mind, or the desire, to extract sperm from my dying partner. But that's my response to a hypothetical situation and one that I will never encounter. But I can understand the logic behind some of the arguments put forward by Mrs Blood as I have already had the experience of using donor sperm due to my own husband's azoospermia.
Blood does not seek approval or agreement regarding her decisions or her actions. However, over the course of the three hours or so that we chatted, in between signing copies of our respective books, she completely changed my opinion of the moral, ethical and legal battle she fought and her reasons for continuing to do so. I had always assumed (with no good reason) that this lady was acting entirely unilaterally, manifesting some extreme knee-jerk reaction to grief and bereavement. What emerged is that she had the full support of her own and her dead husband's family to fight for her right to this treatment. In chapter four, describing the initial High Court hearing, she says: 'This is me. This is what my husband and I believed in and what I will fight for. Whether people agreed or disagreed was relatively immaterial'.
While reading the foreword by her expert witness and supporter, Lord Winston, I was also struck by the fact that this arrangement should have been a private matter agreed between two consenting partners, whether or not you agree morally with the decision Blood took to have the sperm extracted in the first place. She says: 'My desire to have my husband's baby was not triggered by his death. It preceded his death…. I cannot imagine how widows cope in countries where they are denied [their own identity and voice], being seen only as an extension of their husband…. This is how I felt about being denied treatment with my husband's sperm. I couldn't bring him back, but I didn't have to give up on the … the potential of fulfilling my husband's wishes'.
Counter arguments by the HFEA and chair at the time, Ruth Deech, are presented with an even hand, although dismissed or rebuffed from Blood's personal perspective. This is her account, after all.
One message is loud and clear throughout - Diane Blood needed to put her side of the argument: not because she sought any sort of self-publicity but because, if she didn't, there would be no shortage of media pundits willing to comment on her behalf without knowing the facts. This imperative, while creating a definitive and comprehensive testimony for any researcher, can also be over-detailed at times, but I appreciated having the whole, unabridged account on the page, so that I could make up my own mind about the issues.
Flesh and Blood is a story of courage, tenacity and endurance. It is well written and informative. It provides a wealth of background to the modern ethnographic challenges inherent in our changing society. It also provides an insight into the connection, and the risk of losing that connection, between the law and the human being affected by that legislation.
Buy Flesh and Blood: The Human Story Behind the Headlines from Amazon UK.