The Guardian

Belgian hospital must pay family for failings over ‘saviour babies’

- Daniel Boffey Brussels

A hospital in Belgium has been ordered to compensate a couple for their “shock” and “impoverish­ment” after they ended up having three children by IVF treatment owing to a mistake at its fertility clinic.

It is the first time the Belgian courts have found that a healthy child can be the cause of loss to parents.

The case involved a Spanish couple who had a son with beta thalassaem­ia, a genetic blood disorder for which a bone marrow transplant is a potential solution.

The couple decided to have a second child to act as a donor – a so-called saviour sibling. They attended a fertility clinic at the Universita­ir Ziekenhuis Brussel, where doctors were willing to use in vitro fertilisat­ion and “pre-implantati­on diagnosis” to ensure the child conceived was a suitable donor.

The doctors developed several embryos of which three were healthy and one was suitable as a donor. The hospital mistakenly implanted the wrong embryo in the mother and the pregnancy produced female twins. Neither was able to be a donor.

The distraught couple tried again at a hospital in Madrid. A healthy fourth child, who was suitable as a donor, was born in 2018. The longawaite­d bone marrow transplant is said to have taken place last year.

According to the newspaper De Standaard, the couple filed a lawsuit in Brussels, in response to which a judge awarded damages of €27,000 (£23,000) to the mother and €11,000 to the father, for “the shock they suffered after learning that the twins were not suitable as donors” and for the “anxiety and risks generated by a new pregnancy”. The judge ruled that the couple had “wanted two or three children within their family project, but under no circumstan­ces four”.

UZ Brussel hospital was also ordered to pay compensati­on of €5,000 (£4,200) to the oldest child for the delay in his transplant. The court additional­ly awarded the couple material compensati­on, estimated at €25,000, to cover “the impoverish­ment caused by the presence of a fourth child in the family”.

“Saviour siblings” are contentiou­s. In Britain the fertility watchdog relaxed its rules in 2004 on embryo screening to allow the birth of socalled designer babies.

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