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Compensation paid after IVF clinic used wrong embryo for 'saviour' sibling

29 November 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1123

A Belgian court has awarded compensation to a couple after an IVF mix-up resulted in them having too many children.

The Spanish couple's first child was born with the genetic blood disorder beta-thalassemia. The child's best treatment option was a bone marrow transplant, but neither parent was a match. They wanted to have at least one more child anyway so decided to use IVF to select a tissue-matched embryo so their next child would be able to act as a donor. The creation of such 'saviour' siblings is controversial but permitted in Belgium if the child is wanted not just for medical reasons. The couple went to the fertility clinic at the Universitair Ziekenhuis (UZ) hospital in Brussels for treatment.

The clinic created three viable embryos, one of which would make a suitable donor, but transferred the wrong embryo, leading to the birth of healthy twins who were not suitable donors for their ill sibling. Following further treatment at a hospital in Spain, their fourth child was born healthy and was a suitable donor for their ill sibling. The bone marrow transplant has since taken place. 

The couple sued the hospital in Brussels for the unintended creation of twins through the IVF treatment and was awarded compensation. The judge stated in their ruling that the couple 'wanted two or three children within their family project, but never four', awarding €25,000 to the couple for 'the impoverishment caused by the presence of a fourth child', €27,000 in 'moral compensation' for the mother undergoing an additional pregnancy, €11,000 for the father and €5000 for their ill child because his operation had been delayed due to the error.

This is the first case in Belgian law where a judge has ruled that the birth of a healthy child caused loss to the parents. The principle that 'a healthy child is always a blessing' applies in many other jurisdictions, including English law, where the expenses of raising a healthy child are never recoverable (see BioNews 921). 

UZ Brussels spokeswoman Karolien De Prez said: 'It is true that this lady had an embryo transferred that unfortunately did not have all the required genetic characteristics... The parents were compensated and the procedures at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at UZ Brussels were made even more strict to ensure that the chances of this happening again are as small as possible.'

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