Clinic mix-up gives white couple black twins

British court to decide who legal parents are

July 09, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LONDON - A white couple has become the parents of black twins after a mistake by a fertility clinic during in-vitro fertilization in what appears to be the first case of its kind in Britain.

The mix-up was reported yesterday by the British newspaper The Sun. In response, the High Court issued an injunction forbidding the publication or broadcasting of details of the case.

The case also involves a black couple that sought treatment at the same clinic but did not have children afterward. A court case this fall will address the question of who the legal parents are.

In in-vitro fertilization, which is used by tens of thousands of couples in Britain each year, sperm from the father and eggs from the mother are combined in the laboratory. The embryos that develop - often more than one at a time - are then placed in the mother.

No genetic tests are carried out to ensure that the right embryos are implanted into the right woman, so fertility clinics rely on a complex set of checks to avoid mistakes.

In this case, The Sun reported, it is unclear whether the black couple's fertilized egg was mistakenly implanted in the white woman, or whether the black man's sperm had been used to fertilize the white woman's egg.

"Apart from being a tragedy for the parents involved, it is also a major embarrassment for the National Health Service," a health service official told The Sun. "Great steps have been taken to ensure that this sort of thing never happens. It must be a one-in-a-million chance. The big problem now is, who are the real parents of the twins?"

In a similar case in New York in 1999, a 40-year-old white woman who gave birth to two children - one white and one black - after in-vitro treatment agreed to return the black child to his biological parents after it was determined that she had been implanted with the wrong embryo.

In 1993, a Dutch woman gave birth to twins - one of whom had much darker skin than the other. A year later, DNA tests revealed that the hospital had mistakenly mixed sperm from the woman's white husband with that of a black man from the Dutch Antilles. In that case, the woman kept both babies.

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