The UK government last week announced its intention to allow children conceived after the death of their biological father to have him named on their birth certificate. This will be welcome news to one particular woman, Diane Blood, whose son was conceived after her husband died from meningitis in 1994. A gap in the current law means that women who conceive with sperm collected before the death of their partner have children who are legally fatherless.
But it is important to note that the law has not budged on the issue which originally drove Diane Blood to go to court. Diane Blood's much-publicised legal battle started when she asked doctors to remove sperm from her husband, whilst he was unconscious - a condition from which he never recovered. But the sperm had been collected contrary to British law, which requires that sperm providers give written consent to the storage and subsequent use of their sperm. Blood's court case decided the issue of whether Stephen Blood's sperm, collected and stored without consent, could be used by Mrs Blood to have a child. Because of the UK law, Mrs Blood took her husband's sperm abroad for treatment.
The government seems to be standing firmly by current requirements for written consent. But there could be one or two circumstances under which sperm could be collected from a male who is unable to consent to the procedure. The first is where that male is too young to be able to consent to such a procedure but he may be undergoing treatment, such as chemotherapy, which could render him infertile. The second circumstance is where an adult patient is temporarily unable to provide consent, perhaps because he is unconscious.
In these two circumstances, the collection and storage of the sperm could be considered to be in the best interests of the patient. This is because it provides the patient with an opportunity to postpone the decision about its usage until he is able to make it. For people in these circumstances, the proposed change in the law seems wholly sensible.