The importance of giving informed consent to fertility treatment

Informed consent to treatment is one of the most important principles in healthcare and a fundamental feature of fertility law and treatment.  It is there to help protect you as a fertility patient, your future born child and others involved in your fertility treatment.

The legal issues associated with giving informed consent to fertility treatment vary depending upon your personal situation – single, married, co-habiting, whether you are using your own or donor gametes (eggs or sperm) and the nature and form of family you seek to create.  

As a fertility patient you will need to understand and make decisions about a range of legal and practical issues including disclosure of information, the use and storage of eggs, sperm and embryos, the legal status of yourself and your partner, donor or surrogate in respect of your child and your rights and responsibilities if you or another person involved in your family building or treatment has a change of heart or things don't go to plan.

Fertility treatment and modern day family building takes many forms including: conception with your own gametes (eggs or sperm), donor conception (including known donation and inter-family donation), surrogacy, posthumous conception, solo parenting and co-parenting.  These can create flexible and complex issues about the legal status of parents, donors, surrogates and children born as a result of fertility treatment.  This is because the law is not always 'a good fit' in situations involving assisted conception.  

As a fertility patient you will need to complete a range of consent forms before your treatment takes place at a UK fertility clinic licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). These are designed to help deliver a good fertility treatment service and comply with the law governing fertility treatment.  However, this is not just a form filling exercise.  It is important to take time and care in understanding and completing these and obtain expert legal advice so your wishes are reflected in the consent you give.  

To give informed consent to fertility treatment, you need to:

  • Be given information about the legal issues
  • Understand the legal issues
  • Understand the legal implications in practice
  • Understand the legal outcomes in practice

Expert fertility, parenting and family law should be obtained and tailored to your personal situation so you understand the legal issues, implications and outcomes for yourself, your future born child and anyone else involved in your fertility treatment and family building journey. Fertility treatment requires an understanding of both the medical and legal issues, implications and outcomes. Fertility treatment is not just a medical process.

Informed consent to fertility treatment is an issue which is increasingly scrutinised by the English Court.  This can happen when disputes or difficulties arise about legal status and responsibilities for children born through assisted conception. If informed consent to fertility treatment is not properly given it can affect the legal identity of your child, your or a partner's legal parenthood.  It can also mean a third party may have unwanted legal rights and responsibilities for your child.

Issues with informed consent to fertility treatment can also arise in cases where there are questions or problems with the completion of patient consent forms at UK fertility clinics and you can read more about this here.

To help you on your way, our blog provides topical information about fertility, surrogacy and parenting law in addition to a wealth of information about fertility, parenting and family law issues on our specialist website

If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail and secure expert legal advice about fertility treatment, parenting or family law in the UK please contact Louisa Ghevaert by email or call +44 (0)207 788 6382.