More time needed to decide whether to harvest sperm from man in a coma, court rules

The High Court has suspended an emergency order authorising sperm to be collected from a man in a coma.

The man unexpectedly suffered a cardiac arrest late last year, which put him in a vegetative state from which he was unlikely to recover.  An application was made by his partner to a High Court judge on an emergency basis by telephone on Christmas Eve.  She sought permission to retrieve and store his sperm to allow her to conceive his child through fertility treatment in the UK or abroad.  She says they planned a family together, and that this is what he would have wanted if he could consent.

The court initially ordered that she could harvest his sperm.  However, the man’s condition has since improved and he is no longer in any immediate danger.  The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (which oversees fertility treatment in the UK, including the law on consent to the storage and use of sperm in fertility treatment) therefore applied this week for the order to be re-considered.

Mrs Justice Carr has now ruled that, as the man is no longer in immediate danger of dying, more time should be taken to consider things carefully, and the case should be heard over two days in February, addressing first and foremost what is in the man’s best interests.  She said that if his condition worsens, his partner can apply for another emergency decision.

We will continue to watch the case with interest.  It follows two previous decisons of the High Court (including the well known Diane Blood case) allowing widows who had already collected sperm from their husbands in similar circumstances to export that sperm abroad to allow treatment.  However, this is the first case to rule on consent to sperm retrieval.  Since these rules are separate from those concerning the use of stored sperm, this will be an important case.

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