A hospital in Brussels has been fined €68,000 (£57,000) for an IVF treatment that resulted in the couple having too many healthy babies.
In what is understood to be the first case of its type, compensation was deemed appropriate because of the parents’ “shock” at the fertility treatment and due to the “impoverishment” that a fourth baby would bring.
The Spanish couple came to the University Hospital in Brussels, which is renowned across Europe for its fertility treatment, in search of a “saviour baby” for their first child, a son suffering from the genetic blood disorder beta thalassemia.
A bone marrow transplant was required, and a suitable donor was proving difficult to find. Neither parent was eligible.
The couple therefore opted for the impregnation of a pre-screened embryo that would produce a “saviour baby” or suitable donor. The controversial practice is permitted in Belgium provided that the child is also desired, and not conceived purely for medical reasons.
Instead of one embryo, hospital staff impregnated the mother with two by mistake. The twins were born healthy, but neither turned out to be a suitable donor, leading the couple to return to Spain to repeat the procedure.
Their fourth child was a suitable donor, and the bone marrow transplant has taken place.
Ruling that the couple “wanted two or three children within their family project, but never four”, a Belgian judge decided upon €25,000 compensation for “the impoverishment caused by the presence of a fourth child”, plus €27,000 in “moral compensation” for the mother, €11,000 for the father and €5,000 for the elder son on the grounds that his operation was delayed by the medical error.
The story, reported in a Belgian medical journal, was confirmed by the hospital. It is thought to be the first case in which parents have been compensated for having healthy babies as the result of fertility treatment.
“It is true that this lady had an embryo transferred that unfortunately did not have all the required genetic characteristics,” said UZ Brussels spokeswoman Karolien De Prez.
“However, the embryo was healthy and had the best chance of resulting in pregnancy. The parents were compensated and the procedures at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at UZ Brussels were made even more strict to ensure that the chances of this happening again are as small as possible.”