Friday 18 April 2014

Young widow campaigns to save late husband's sperm

Undated family handout of Warren Brewer and Beth Warren in 2008. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday January 30, 2014. Beth is in the middle of a legal battle to prevent her dead husband's frozen sperm from being destroyed. Her husband, Warren Brewer, died of a brain tumour at the age of 32 in February 2012. See PA story COURTS Legal. Photo credit should read: Family handout/PA Wire

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Warren Brewer and Beth Warren in 2008

A campaigning widow is preparing for her day in court in a bid to stop her late husband's sperm being destroyed.

Beth Warren, 26, is going to the High Court in London tomorrow to challenge a time limit imposed by the UK fertility regulator which means she has until April 2015 to conceive using the sample he placed in storage before dying.

Warren Brewer, a ski instructor, was 32 when he lost a long battle with cancer in February 2012.

In a double tragedy, his death from a brain tumour happened just weeks after Mrs Warren's brother had died in a car crash.

The couple, who were together eight years, were married in a Birmingham hospice six weeks before his death, and had frankly discussed the possibility of Mrs Warren using his sperm to conceive if he became infertile, as a result of cancer treatment, or after his death.

Mr Brewer had signed consent forms in the two years after being diagnosed in 2010, allowing storage.

Mrs Warren, of Birmingham, said coping with her personal trauma made it impossible for her to make any decisions about her future within the timescale, and wants it extended so she can make a choice in her own time.

However the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has said it has "no discretion to extend the storage period beyond that to which her husband gave written consent".

The issue will now be determined by a High Court judge, in a ruling which will set legal precedent.

Mr Brewer's sperm was stored before radiotherapy when the tumour first appeared in 2005, however after initially successful treatment the tumour re-emerged five years later.

At the time of first diagnosis, he was referred to a sperm storage clinic and signed the first of several forms stating his wife should be allowed to use his sample after his death - the last of these forms was signed just weeks before he died.

Mrs Warren and her legal team, who have been working for free on the case, have challenged the HFEA - which has said its hand are tied on the matter by the way the law currently stands - and have won two previous temporary extensions on the storage time limit.

However, the HFEA has said it is unable to offer any further extension.

Mrs Warren, who is a physiotherapist, has challenged that decision and is seeking a ruling on the matter around posthumous conception.

She is being supported in her bid by her late husband's family, and fellow campaigner Diane Blood, who in 1997 won the right to conceive a child using sperm from her dead husband.

While Mrs Warren will not attempt to pre-judge the outcome of her hearing, she believes her experience will change the way similar such cases are handled by the fertility regulator in the future.

She said: "Over the years it was several times Warren gave consent that if he died I could become pregnant, and we thought everything was in order.

"It was a month to the day he died I was told I had six weeks to become pregnant - that's when I sought legal advice."

Mrs Warren said she had tried to avoid court, with negotiations with the HFEA on-going for two years ending in an impasse.

"I'm exhausted but it's not a fight I can give up - Warren said he wanted to give me this chance. I need to do this," she added.

"It's so tied up in Warren and myself and our relationship.

"We'd been together eight years and I'd grown up with him, and we wanted a family.

"For me I'm just not ready, I know I'm not emotionally ready at the moment (to conceive).

"I need to become professionally established and financially secure so I can be the one to look after that child, and give that child the best upbringing."

Mrs Warren added it had been a "lonely" battle for her at times, but said had been lucky with her legal team, friends who had set-up a campaign website and the support of both hers and Mr Brewer's family.

Her solicitor James Lawford Davies believes they have the evidence to show Mr Brewer's intent in allowing his wife to conceive using his stored sperm.

"We have a clear expression that his intent was to extend the storage period much further," he said.

"There's no suggestion that he was trying to restrict the period Mrs Warren could store the sperm."

He added: "The argument we will be making is that Mrs Warren should be allowed to store for up to 55 years, from the first day of storage.

"She is still putting her life back together after the deaths of her brother and husband, she's not in a position to have a baby and I don't think a woman should be forced into making that sort of decision - which is precisely where Mrs Warren finds herself."

He said the outcome of tomorrow's hearing was "uncertain", and it was unlikely a judgment would be given the same day given the issue's complexities.

The HFEA has previously said that while it has every sympathy with Mrs Warren's case the law around storage of samples is clear.

Richard Vernalls

Press Association

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