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Singapore woman wins damages from IVF sperm mix-up

27 March 2017
Appeared in BioNews 894

A woman in Singapore has been awarded damages after an IVF clinic fertilised her eggs with a stranger's sperm instead of her husband's.

The mistake only came to light after a baby girl was born from the resulting conception. Tests revealed that the child had blood group B, which meant she could not be the genetic child of the couple, who are groups O and A. Further tests revealed the child was biologically related to the mother but not the father.

The Singapore Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court rejecting the couple's claim for the expenses occurred in raising the child: 'The duty to maintain one's child is a duty which lies at the very heart of parenthood, and thus the expenses which are incurred... are not capable of characterisation as a loss.'

However, the Court of Appeal departed from the High Court's judgment by deciding that the woman could be compensated for the loss of 'genetic affinity', and could recover damages of 30 percent of the cost of raising the child.

'The ordinary human experience is that parents and children are bound by ties of blood and this fact of biological experience – heredity – carries deep socio-cultural significance... And when, as in the present case, a person has been denied this experience due to the negligence of others then she has lost something of profound significance and has suffered a serious wrong,' the court ruled.

The mother is ethnically Chinese and the father is Caucasian, and they have an older biological son. The sperm used was from an Indian man, and the court recognised that the difference in appearance between the girl and her family drew unwanted attention: 'This loss of "affinity" can also result in social stigma and embarrassment arising out of the misperceptions of others, as was the case here.' 

Singapore is a common-law jurisdiction, and a precedent exists that a healthy child is always a blessing – even if the couple had sought to avoid pregnancy – and cannot be a cause for compensation. The High Court had further noted that in this case the couple had 'had wanted a second child all along' so it was 'not be said that [she] and her husband were not contemplating having to expend money to bring up a child'. 

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18 April 2016 - by Cait McDonagh 
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