EMILIE BONJE

Mission accomplished: “Madam Bakster” helps get time limit for use of dead partners sperm in IVF increased to 5 years

A campaign by a well-known baker, coffee house owner and magazine columnist has contributed to a re-think by the government with regard to the time limit for the use of frozen sperm or egg cells from a deceased partner in IVF treatment. Currently the limit is no longer than 2 years after a partner’s death. However, this will soon be increased to 5 years. 

The story of Laura Verhulst (photo above, left) from Knokke-Heist (West Flanders), who is currently pregnant thanks to IVF treatment using her dead husband’s sperm, set the wheels in motion towards getting the time limit extended. 

In and around the East Flemish city of Ghent Laura Verhulst is known as “Madam Bakster” (Mrs Baker), which is the name of the popular coffee house and bakery she runs there. She is also known across Flanders thanks to a column she writes in the women’s magazine ‘Flair’. In December 2021 she lost her husband Kobe (photo above, right) to stomach cancer. Before he started his chemotherapy Kobe had some of his sperm frozen. However, after his death Laura Verhust had just two years to get pregnant with her deceased husband’s sperm.

Two weeks ago Laura announced some happy news in her column in Flair. She had managed to get pregnant in time and if all goes well her first child should be born this summer.

In an interview with VRT News Laura Verhulst said that "Happiness is my primary emotion. Sorrow is also there to some extent too, but it doesn’t override my happiness. I my head I am just going to become a mum”.

Laura’s story struck a chord with many. She told VRT News that “Fulfilling your wish to have children while racing against the clock is not good for anyone”. She called for the time limit for the use of a deceased partner’s sperm or egg cells in IVF treatment to be increased from the current limit of 2 years. Laura argued that those that have only recently lost a partner are still grieving and forcing them to make a choice that will determine the course of the rest of their life is counterproductive.

Moreover, by setting such a strick time limit it is almost impossible for the surviving partner to have more than one child using the deceased partner’s sperm.

New limit in force before the summer

The Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Flemish socialist) told VRT News that “You should someone time to make such an import decision in what is already a difficult period for them”. Furthermore, "IVF doesn’t always work straight away."

Mr Vandenbroucke believes that the new limit of 5 years is long enough to give a surviving partner time to grieve. It is likely that the new time limit will have been approved by the Federal Parliament before the summer recess. As sperm and egg cells are kept for 10 years those current on IVF treatment in the hope of getting pregnant from their dead partner’s sperm will also benefit from the extension to the time limit. 

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