Health

Widow wins High Court frozen embryo case

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSamantha Jefferies: "It's absolutely amazing common sense has prevailed"

The widow of a Falklands war veteran has won a High Court bid to keep frozen embryos that they had created.

Samantha Jefferies, 42, from East Sussex, said they were her "last chance" of having his child.

Clive Jefferies died suddenly in 2014 and his wife was told the embryos they had been using in fertility treatment would only be stored for two years.

Judge Sir James Munby said it was "obviously right" they were stored for 10 years, as had been initially agreed.

And he said he was sorry Mrs Jefferies had ended up in court as a result of the mistakes of others.

Fergus Walsh: The widow, the judge and the frozen embryos

Speaking with tears in her eyes, she said the judge's decision was "overwhelmingly fantastic - just brilliant, amazing". She said she did not have a plan for using the embryos soon but added: "I would love to be a mum."

"There was so much compassion within the court, that it didn't feel like it was a fight. It felt like they were more supportive rather than it being a battle," she said.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSamantha Jefferies tells BBC Radio 4's Today her husband would have wanted her to use the embryos

Embryos, like sperm and eggs, can be stored for a maximum of 10 years before couples must renew their written consent.

The couple had already had two unsuccessful cycles of IVF on the NHS, and were about to undergo their third when Mr Jefferies, a former army medic, died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage in 2014 aged 51.

Mrs Jefferies was then told the embryos must be destroyed because a two-year storage period had expired.

This was despite the couple signing consent forms for 10 years' storage and posthumous use of embryos.

Guaranteed payment

The court heard the forms had been amended because the couple had only two years of NHS funding, which has now expired.

Mrs Jefferies says neither she nor her husband signed the amendments and cannot remember how the changes were made.

Her legal team suggest the changes on the forms reflect the clinic's policy at the time, which was to offer storage only for the period for which they were guaranteed payment and the law states that embryos cannot legally be stored once consent has expired.

Judge Munby said the case "turned on a signature".

The clinic - Sussex Downs Fertility Centre - has since changed its policy and supported Mrs Jefferies' application.

It said its previous policy had not been driven purely by financial concerns, but also because of the desire to maintain regular contact with couples. It has also paid Mrs Jefferies' legal costs.

'I want to be a mum'

Image copyright S Jefferies
Image caption Mrs Jefferies said her husband "was a wonderful man and I'd like to continue to have his children"

Clive Jefferies served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was on board the transport ship Sir Galahad when it was bombed in the Falklands in 1982, killing 48 men.

He later worked as a nurse.

In early 2015 Mrs Jefferies received a letter from the clinic saying that consent for the embryo storage would expire that August.

The law states that embryos cannot legally be stored once consent has expired.

But Mrs Jeffries said she did not want to be denied the last chance to have her late husband's child by "bureaucracy".

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme before the judgement was announced: "It's pure red tape. They [the embryos] are going to be allowed to perish, which would be the worst-case scenario.

"I want to be a mum and I want my husband's children. We chose each other... based on lots of reasons... when two people fall in love.

"He was a wonderful man and I'd like to continue to have his children."

Image copyright S.JEFFERIES
Image caption Clive and Samantha were married in 2007

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) wrote to all IVF clinics in 2012 urging them not to restrict embryo storage to two or three years.

It said the policy risked "causing significant distress" in the event of a patient dying and urged them to allow couples to store embryos for 10 years, even if their funding ran out sooner.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites