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Appeal over destroyed sperm cells

Sperm cells destroyed when a hospital freezer broke down were “out of body” and thus not eligible for personal-injury claims, a county court judge has ruled.

Six cancer sufferers had asked for samples to be put on ice because treatment might make them infertile. But in June 2003 a freezer tank at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, failed. One of the men has since died.

In reaching his decision, Judge Jeremy Griggs had compared the sperm to hair cut off by a barber, or toenail clippings.

But lawyers for the five men and the dead man’s widow are now asking the Court of Appeal to overturn the judge’s ruling because the destroyed sperm was “living and biologically active, albeit in a suspended state”.

Barrister James Townsend argued that the sperm was “awaiting further use” for exactly the same purpose as it would have been if it had stayed in the men’s bodies.

The Trust’s lawyers argue that the sperm samples were not capable of amounting to “property” in the legal sense, and that the men suffered no personal injury giving rise to a right to compensation. The hearing continues, and judgment is expected to be reserved to a later date.

Copyright Press Association 2008

North Bristol NHS Trust