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