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The BBC's Richard Wells
"She and her husband did not agree with abortion"
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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 19:19 GMT
Triplets mother wins IVF case
Patricia Thompson
Patricia Thompson won her case
A fertility clinic was in breach of contract when its treatment led to a woman giving birth to triplets, the High Court has ruled.

Patricia Thompson, and her husband Peter, are claiming damages equivalent to the cost of bringing up the third baby.

The Sheffield Fertility Clinic implanted three embryos, despite Mrs Thompson's belief that they had agreed that they would only put back two.

Unusually, all three embedded successfully and were carried to term - the only instance of its kind among 250 women who underwent the same treatment at the clinic in 1996.

Mrs Thompson gave birth to two boys and a girl.

I think two is more than enough for anyone to have

Patricia Thompson
According to the clinic's director Dr Elizabeth Lenton normal procedure was to implant three embryos to increase the chances of a woman becoming pregnant.

Prospective mothers could later elect to reduce the number if all three embryos implanted successfully.

However, Mrs Thompson, 34, said she would never have agreed to that as she and her husband did not agree with abortion.

In court, she told Mr Justice Hooper: "I think two is more than enough for anyone to have. I just wanted two babies or a baby."

"I wouldn't have wanted three implanting because of the consultation given in the beginning. The doctor explained so thoroughly the risk of carrying a third or fourth baby."

Delighted with children

Sheffield Fertility Centre
Mrs Thompson underwent treatment at Sheffield Fertility Centre
Mrs Thompson said she was "delighted" with her children.

But she said: "The effort of looking after three children rather than the maximum of two that we had planned is absolutely exhausting and stretches our physical resources.

"It is likely that the economic pressure on us will increase as time goes on, and the purpose of the claim that I make is to seek redress for the additional child who we had not originally intended to conceive."

The clinic had contested Mrs Thompson's claim.

The doctor who carried out the procedure, Dr Sundav Sugantha, who was working in an unpaid training post, said she could not remember the actual procedure but was confident she would have followed her normal practice of agreeing how many embryos were to be implanted immediately beforehand.

However, Dr Lenton told the court: "In hindsight we would have handled the whole thing very much rigorously and have had her sign a consent to the change."

The couple's claim for damages - which could amount to 100,000 - may not be fully decided for some time.

Since the birth of the triplets in 1997, the couple, from Thrybergh in South Yorkshire, have had a fourth child, conceived naturally and unexpectedly.

However, Mr Thompson, who is 57, has since suffered a heart attack followed by a bypass operation.

Sedatives given

Dr Elizabeth Lenton
Dr Elizabeth Lenton said it was standard practice to implant three embryos
Mrs Thompson claimed that sedatives given before the operation had an effect on her mental state before she was asked whether three embryos should be implanted.

Although only a small proportion of those women given three embryos following IVF actually go on to have a triplet pregnancy, the extra health risks associated with this are significant.

Modern guidelines recommend that no more than two embryos are implanted by fertility clinics.

Jane Denton, from the Multiple Births Society, told the BBC: "It's an extremely difficult situation for the doctors.

The guidance is to take all possible steps to minimise the risk of multiple pregnancies.

Jane Denton, Multiple Births Society
"The guidance is to take all possible steps to minimise the risk of multiple pregnancies.

"The key thing is that it is discussed fully with the parents."

The proceedings are a legal test case because no-one has attempted to sue for breach of contract over an apparent "excess" of children following IVF treatment.

A previous case last year, dismissed by the House of Lords, ruled that parents had no right to compensation for negligence in such circumstances after fertility treatment on the NHS.

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31 Mar 99 | Medical notes
21 Dec 98 | Medical notes
Multiple births and fertility treatment
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