The Crown Court in Southampton, UK, has begun hearing the case of embryologist Paul Fielding. Fielding was suspended from a Hampshire clinic in September 2000 and arrested a month later after it came to light that a number of stored human embryos could not be accounted for.
The inquiry originally began after a couple using the clinic complained to police that their embryos had gone missing. Further investigations revealed a number of discrepancies with the recording and labelling of stored embryos at the clinics and an official audit was begun by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
Fielding was reported for alleged assault, deception, false accounting and offences under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 which regulates the provision of infertility services and the creation and storage of human embryos. Now, it has come to light that he may have pretended to thaw and implant embryos into female patients as part of a deception aimed at making himself money. He is faced with eight charges of false accounting based on claims that he did not thaw women's embryos or use them in implantation procedures. On this basis, he is also facing three counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm because women had consented to an invasive operation on the understanding that an embryo would be implanted, when this did not actually happen.
The court has heard that Fielding had accumulated large personal debts. The prosecution suggested that this was the likely motive for his alleged dishonest practices. Fielding was paid £50 for each embryo thawing procedure. During the trial, the court has also heard that the HFEA audit has identified problems at a number of other clinics across the country. Sanctions have been taken against each of the unnamed clinics.