Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Man sues over damaged sperm samples at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital

Edinburgh's Western General Hospital
Image caption The sperm samples were allowed to change temperature at the Western General Hospital

A man who claims he lost the chance to father his own child after his sperm samples were damaged in a hospital is seeking £50,000 compensation.

Richard Holdich had stored samples at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital in 1992 as he was to undergo chemotherapy treatment for testicular cancer.

He decided later to start fertility treatment but there had been a failure in the freezer storing the samples.

Mr Holdich, from Beverley, East Yorkshire, is suing NHS Lothian.

The health authority is contesting the action and maintain the samples remained viable and could have been used for IVF treatment.

A procedural hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, in the case was due to begin before Lord Jones on Tuesday but the judge was told that counsel considered that four days allocated was no longer sufficient.

Test case

David Stephenson QC, for the health board, said: "Approximately another 20 actions have been raised by other men who had samples stored in the same freezer."

He said they lay "in abeyance" while the present action was treated as a test case.

In the action Mr Holdich, 43, said he was told his treatment for teratoma testicular cancer, needed to combat the illness, would leave him infertile.

The samples were stored in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of minus 196C.

Over a period of about 48 hours the temperature rose to minus 53C.

Fertility treatment

It is claimed it is likely the change in temperature caused damage to the DNA of surviving cells which effects the ability to form a viable embryo in culture and a live birth.

It is maintained in the action that DNA damage is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and is likely to increase the risk of birth defects.

Mr Holdich said that in 2002 he received a letter after an expert was brought in which said the advice was that the samples should not be used.

It said: "The problem is that during the thawing and refreezing ice crystals may have formed in the sperm and if they have, this could have caused damage to the chromosomes or genes."

Mr Holdich decided not to proceed to fertility treatment using the sperm samples.

The health authority said two sperm samples from the freezer which have been used in fertility treatment have resulted in conception and the birth of healthy children.

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