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Court rules that embryos cannot be used without consent

1 October 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 227

The UK High Court has ruled today that Natallie Evans and Lorraine Hadley cannot use their stored frozen embryos without the consent of their former partners. The women appeared in the High Court in June this year, asking Mr Justice Wall to prevent the destruction of their stored embryos, created using IVF. Both women want to complete their IVF treatment, against the wishes of their former partners, and contend that the frozen embryos represent their only chance to have a child.

Ms Evans had to have her ovaries removed when it was discovered that they were pre-cancerous. But before this happened, she had six IVF embryos frozen, created using her then boyfriend's sperm. When they separated, he asked for the embryos to be destroyed. Ms Hadley has two frozen embryos in storage, but her husband also refused to allow the embryos to be used after the end of their marriage. The women's legal claims centred on a challenge to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act of 1990, which states that embryos must be destroyed unless both parties consent to their continued storage and use. But the women argued that once the embryos have been created and stored by a couple, it is too late for the consent given by either party to be withdrawn. They said that no viable embryo should be left to perish if one of the people who created it wanted it to live.

Lawyers representing the two women lawyers told the High Court that the provisions in the HFE Act breach the human rights of their clients- the right to found a family. They also contended that current legislation discriminates against the women because they are infertile and have to undergo IVF treatment in order to have children: if they could get pregnant naturally, their partners would have no say over what the women could do. But Mr Justice Wall said that, despite having sympathy with the women, he could not overrule the law. Only Parliament has the power to do this, he stressed. One implication of the decision, which the women have said they will appeal, is that fertility clinics will now have to ensure that couples having IVF are aware of the laws relating to consent, and of what would happen to any embryos that were created if the couple separated.

Responding to the decision, Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA (British Medical Association) ethics committee said that while the BMA empathised with the women's situation, it felt it would be dangerous to change the rules on consent retrospectively. 'The principle of valid consent is an important one that must be upheld', he said. Ian Mackay, of Families Need Fathers, said he believed the decision was sad but correct: the court had to consider what the effect on any resulting child might be of knowing its father had 'specifically opposed' its birth. 'We can also speculate as to what the decision would have been if the father had formed a new relationship and had wanted to use the embryos which had been produced, and implant them in his new partner', he added.

High court prevents women from using partners' embryos
Yahoo Daily News |  1 October 2003
Women lose court battle over frozen embryos
The Independent |  1 October 2003
Women lose embryo battle
BBC News Online |  1 October 2003
Women Lose Frozen Embryos Battle
Reuters |  1 October 2003
22 November 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK woman fighting to use stored frozen embryos created using her former partner's sperm made a final appeal last week, to the Grand Chamber of the European Court. Natallie Evans started fertility treatment with Howard Johnston in 2001, but he withdrew his consent for the...
24 July 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
In a dispute between an Irish couple over the use of frozen embryos, created before they separated, a High Court judge has ruled that the man did not ever give consent for his estranged wife to use the embryos. Justice Brian McGovern ruled that the man...
13 March 2006 - by Professor Hazel Biggs 
Last week in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) Natallie Evans lost her battle to be permitted to try for a pregnancy using embryos that she and her former partner, Howard Johnston, created before she was rendered infertile by cancer treatment. The case is emotive in its subject matter...
7 March 2006 - by BioNews 
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued its judgment in the case of Evans v the United Kingdom. Natallie Evans, a British woman seeking the right to be able to use her own frozen IVF embryos, asked the court last September to rule whether UK law preventing her...
6 March 2006 - by BioNews 
Natallie Evans, a British woman seeking the right to be able to use her own frozen IVF embryos, will hear tomorrow if her claim has succeeded in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Last September, she asked the ECHR to consider her case, having been refused leave to appeal...
29 October 2003 - by BioNews 
Natallie Evans, one of two British women currently prevented from using embryos kept in frozen storage by the withdrawal of consent by ex-partners, has announced that she will take her case to the Court of Appeal. The UK High Court ruled a month ago against Natallie Evans and Lorraine Hadley...
27 October 2003 - by BioNews 
Lorraine Hadley, one of the two women prevented from using embryos kept in frozen storage because her husband refused the necessary consent, has said she will not battle further to be able to use them. Ms Hadley had created two embryos during IVF treatment with her former husband, Wayne. After...
6 October 2003 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
While one might have sympathy for Natallie Evans and Lorraine Hadley because the UK's High Court has ruled they cannot use the embryos they have in frozen storage, it is hard to criticise the legal decision in this case. Mr Justice Wall followed the letter of the law on consent...
3 October 2003 - by BioNews 
Last week, the High Court ruled against two women seeking to use their frozen embryos against their ex-partners' wishes. One of them, Lorraine Hadley, said in a subsequent BBC interview that she may request her ex-husband to consent to donating their two embryos to another woman, so that the embryos...
1 October 2003 - by Juliet Tizzard 
This week's BioNews reports on news that two women have lost a legal challenge to the use of their embryos without the consent of their former partners. Natallie Evans and Lorraine Hadley want to use the frozen embryos to try for their own babies even though their former partners - the...
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