Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

High Court ruling on frozen sperm case

Beth Warren has won a High Court case to stop her late husband’s frozen sperm being destroyed.

Beth Warren’s husband, Warren Brewer, had sperm frozen before starting cancer treatment. He signed paperwork saying his wife could use the sperm after his death. The law allows sperm and eggs to be stored for up to 55 years, providing consent is regularly renewed.

Sadly, Mr Brewer died of a brain tumour in February 2012.  As a consequence, consent could no longer be renewed.  The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulatory body, ruled that Mr Brewer’s sperm could not be stored beyond April 2015.  Mrs Warren, from Birmingham, brought a High Court action to enable her to use the sperm beyond that date.

Having heard the evidence, the High Court ruled in favour of Mrs Warren, compassionately considering it “right and proper and proportionate” to allow the sperm to be kept until at least April 2023.  The evidence indicated that both Mr Brewer and his wife had agreed that he wanted her to have the opportunity to have his child, if she wanted, after his death, even though the written consents provided by Mr Brewer did not specify that his sperm should be stored beyond the statutory period required by the HFEA.

The legal fight goes on, however, as the HFEA has asked for leave to appeal against the decision, which has wider implications for the existing consent regime.

The potential implications, when combined with the Yearworth and Holdich decisions on ownership of sperm samples, are significant and could open up new legal battlegrounds for couples who seek the chance to have a family.

If you have any queries regarding issues arising from sperm retention please contact Chris Thorne who gained worldwide recognition as a leading expert in cryogenics, IVF and male fertility after he represented the claimants in the ground breaking case Yearworth v North Bristol NHS Trust and victims of the Sheffield and Edinburgh sperm destruction incidents, and who continues to provide advice to clients and other lawyers in this area.