Incapacitous patients, assisted reproductive technology, and the importance of informed consent

Incapacitous patients, assisted reproductive technology, and the importance of informed consent
Lisa Cherkassky
Legal Studies, 20 April 2023
The principle of self-determination has gained significant judicial support over the last three decades, and the choice to procreate using assisted reproductive technology is a clear example of our right to choose a treatment that enhances our personal lives. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (as amended in 2008) stipulates that each party must give written, informed consent to ensure that our reproductive materials are used within strict parameters. However, the growing number of posthumous conception cases in several jurisdictions has raised concerns, particularly in situations where gametes are extracted from incapacitous patients without their consent, leading to posthumous parenthood. The landmark case of Y v A Healthcare NHS Trust [2018] EWCOP 18 caused significant concern when it authorised the retrieval, storage and use of sperm from a suspected brain stem dead man for procreative purposes under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It has never been known to be in the ‘best interests’ of a patient who lacks capacity to procreate in English law, and the consequences of this decision could be highly significant, raising questions about the exploitation of incapacitous patients and the misuse of genetic material. The decision has since been confirmed as the correct approach by the Court of Protection in Re X (Catastrophic Injury: Collection and Storage of Sperm) [2022] EWCOP 48, and a public consultation has now been opened by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. This paper examines the rigorous consent regime of the 1990 Act and the ethical complexities of retrieving gametes from incapacitous patients for procreative purposes. It will be determined that the 1990 Act’s preference for a rigorous consent regime for public policy reasons is appropriate, and any alternative forms of consent could open a slippery slope to the unethical use of vulnerable individuals for their reproductive materials.

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