The requirements of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 are strict and any procedural error by fertility clinics can cause untold legal complications and misery. That was certainly so in one case in which a form-filling error led to a woman adopting her own child – even though she was already its legal parent.
The birth mother, X, had agreed from the outset that her same-sex partner, Y, whom she later married, should have equal parental rights in respect of the child. The child was born following sperm donor treatment at an NHS reproductive medicine clinic. However, Y’s status as a legal mother was put in doubt because a crucial consent form had not been signed prior to the procedure.
The clinic and the couple’s lawyer advised them – wrongly – that the only solution to the problem was for Y to adopt the child. After being vetted by social workers – a process that she found very intrusive and hurtful – Y was granted an adoption order by a judge. The word ‘adopted’ was added to the child’s birth certificate, a factor which caused the couple enormous distress.
In ruling on the unprecedented case, the High Court put right the clinic’s error and declared that Y had the same parental status as X. That outcome not only righted an obvious wrong but recognised the legal and factual reality of the situation. The adoption order was revoked, enabling the couple to apply for a fresh birth certificate which would no longer be marked with the word ‘adopted’.