SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

22 March 2017

ACB v Thomson Medical Pte Ltd and Others [2017] SGCA 20, 1 SLR 918

MEDIA SUMMARIES

Blut ist dicker als Wasser oder Kind als Schaden wegen Spermaverwechselung bei IVF

Der Oberste Gerichtshof Singapurs entschied kürzlich über einen Fall der unglücklichen Verwechslung bei IVF. Ein Paar (chinesischer und deutscher Abstammung) wurde einer In-vitro-Fertilisation (IVF) im Thomson Medical Center in Singapur unterzogen. Der Prozess war erfolgreich und die Mutter brachte 2010 ein gesundes Mädchen (ihr zweites Kind über IVF) zur Welt.

Aber die glücklichen Eltern bemerkten bald, dass ihre Tochter im Vergleich zu ihnen und ihrem ersten Kind deutlich andere Züge hatte, einschließlich Haar- und Hautfarbe.

Ein Gentest ergab, dass das Kind nur mit der Mutter und nicht mit dem Ehemann der Mutter verwandt war. Thomson Medical bestätigte, dass ein Fehler gemacht wurde; das Sperma eines anonymen Spenders (indischer Abstammung) und nicht das Sperma des Mannes waren versehentlich dazu benutzt worden, das Ei der Mutter zu besamen.

Das Ehepaar verklagte Thomson Medical auf Schadensersatz einschließlich der Unterhaltspflicht des Kindes bis zum Alter von 21 Jahren.

Die Rechtsprechung verneint das Recht der Eltern auf Unterhaltskosten, weil es eine schädliche Auswirkung hätte, da die Geburt des Kindes als ein Gesamtfehler oder als Verlust für die Eltern angesehen würde. Der Oberste Gerichtshof Singapurs war mit diesem Ergebnis eindeutig unzufrieden. Es hatte das Gefühl, dass das Ehepaar einen sehr schweren Schaden erlitten hatte, der nicht durch das geltende Gewohnheitsrecht erfasst wurde.

So schuf das Gericht eine völlig neue Kategorie von Verlust - genetische Affinität. Es vertrat die Ansicht, dass Eltern ein starkes Interesse daran haben, mit ihren Kindern genetisch verwandt zu sein, und dass Thomson Medical dieses Interesse verletzt habe.

Das Gericht sprach dem Paar für den Verlust der genetischen Verwandtschaft 30 Prozent der Unterhaltungskosten zu.

Es bleibt abzuwarten, ob andere Rechtsordnungen den Wert der genetischen Affinität anerkennen werden. Aber das Urteil findet zu einem interessanten Zeitpunkt in der Geschichte der Menschheit statt. Wir gewinnen beispiellose Fähigkeiten, an unserem genetischen Code herumzubasteln, und dies wirft interessante ethische Fragen auf.

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Singapore’s Supreme Court recently ruled that parents have a strong interest in “genetic affinity” with their children, Quelle

Blood is thicker than water, or so the saying goes, reflecting the value we put on biological relationships. But is it something the law should recognise?

Singapore’s Supreme Court recently ruled on a case that asks this very question, and it gave a fascinating answer: Parents have a strong interest in “genetic affinity” with their children, one that can merit compensation if subverted.

Genetic affinity is an entirely new legal standard. It has no clear precedent in any jurisdiction. But the court made a compelling argument that it has a sound basis in the way we value family and heredity.

Recognising that value will be particularly important as we advance into the genomic era, which will increase our ability to not only analyse but also alter our fundamental biological code.

The case: ACB V THOMSON MEDICAL

The case in question involves an unfortunate mix-up. A couple of Chinese and German heritage underwent in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) at Thomson Medical Centre in Singapore. The process was successful, and the mother gave birth to a healthy baby girl (her second child via IVF) in 2010.

But the happy parents soon noticed that their daughter had markedly different features, including hair and skin tone, compared with them and their first child.

A genetic test found that the child was related only to the mother, not the mother’s husband. Thomson Medical confirmed a mistake had been made; an anonymous donor’s sperm, rather than the husband’s sperm, had accidentally been used to inseminate the mother’s egg.

The couple sued Thomson Medical, seeking damages including the child’s upkeep through to the age of 21.

The court denied the couple’s claim for upkeep costs because it would have a pernicious effect in that the child’s birth would be seen as an overall mistake, or loss to the parents.

The parents are raising the child, and an award would send a perverse and harmful message to the child that she was not valued, that her very existence required monetary compensation.

This reasoning has led many courts to deny “wrongful birth” upkeep claims. Such claims typically come up when someone parents a child after a botched voluntary sterilisation operation.

It was also the basis of Andrews v Keltz, a New York State Supreme Court “wrongful fertilisation” case involving a similar sperm mix-up.

Singapore’s Supreme Court was clearly dissatisfied with that outcome. It felt that the couple had suffered a very serious harm, one not captured by current common law.

So the court created a completely new category of loss – genetic affinity. It held that parents have a strong interest in being genetically related to their children, and that Thomson Medical had violated this interest.

Ironically, the court did set the award for loss of genetic affinity at 30 per cent of upkeep costs to the couple in the end. This was not because upkeep itself was a loss to be compensated; it was because there seemed no other principled way to settle the financial value of genetic affinity.

Awarding a portion of upkeep was at least less arbitrary than an absolute award. At the same time, it may raise the concern that the value of genetic affinity has greater monetary weight for rich parents, who have higher upkeep costs, than poor parents.

It remains to be seen whether other jurisdictions will recognise the value of genetic affinity. But the judgment occurs at an interesting juncture in human history. We are gaining unprecedented ability to tinker with our genetic code, and this raises interesting ethical issues.

Do women with mitochondrial disorders have a right to engage in “three-parent IVF” to ensure genetic affinity with a healthy child, for instance?

If we use CRISPR-cas9 gene-editing technology to alter the genes of embryos, does it constitute a loss of genetic affinity with parents? And is it possible to use such editing to shift genetic affinity, by making a child’s traits more in line with one parent rather than the other?

These questions will only become more pressing as science advances, and the concept of genetic affinity may provide a coherent lens through which to consider them.