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Law Lords reject woman's embryo appeal

6 December 2004
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 287

The UK's House of Lords has refused to allow an appeal from Natallie Evans, a woman seeking to be able to use frozenIVF embryos that were created before she separated from her then partner, who has since withdrawn his consent to their use. The embryos represent her last chance to have her own biologically related child, as her ovaries were removed when they were found to be cancerous.

The High Court decided in September 2003 that the embryos must be destroyed, as they could not be used without the consent of both parties. Ms Evans appealed that decision on five grounds: first, that Howard Johnston, her former fiancé, had consented to treatment together with her and intended for her to carry the embryos created with his sperm. Secondly, that the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act is wrong, if it allows consent to be withdrawn after the embryos have been created. Thirdly, that in any event, it was too late for consent to be withdrawn as, technically, the embryos had already been 'used' as part of her treatment. Fourthly, she argued that she has a right to use the embryos as part of her human right to privacy and family life, guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Lastly, she argued, the law, by granting a 'male veto' over the use of the embryos, discriminates against her in breach of Article 14 of the ECHR.

In June 2004, the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court decision, pointing out that the 1990 Act requires that consent from both parties is needed for the continued storage of frozen embryos, or for their use. The three judges - Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Sedley and Lady Justice Arden - rejected all the legal arguments, saying that the current law is clear and unambiguous. Johnston was permitted to withdraw his consent at any time, they said. Lord Justice Thorpe commented, however, that the case 'is a tragedy of a kind which may well not have been in anyone's mind when the statute was framed'.

The appeal court also commented that 'couples seeking IVF treatment should consider reaching some agreement about what is to happen to their embryos if they separate or also if the genetic father dies before implantation. Any agreement between the parties would be subject to the 1990 Act, but early discussion could avoid heartbreak at a later stage'. The court then agreed to stay the destruction of the embryos while Natallie and her legal team considered whether to appeal to the House of Lords. Now, three Law Lords have rejected her petition for a further appeal, on the grounds that her case 'did not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the House at this time, bearing in mind that the cause has already been the subject of judicial determination'. Muiris Lyons, the solicitor representing Natallie, said that 'clearly, Natallie is very disappointed at the decision', adding 'she was hopeful that the House of Lords would recognise the importance of the case, not just to her but to others, and hear the appeal'. Natallie and her legal team are now considering whether to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Frozen Embryos Woman Thwarted in Law Lords Hope
The Scotsman |  29 November 2004
Law Lords reject woman's IVF plea
BBC News Online |  29 November 2004
Woman Denied Right To Appeal Over Use Of Frozen Embryos |  29 November 2004
5 March 2008 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
A UK man has two children he did not know existed, born after his estranged wife conceived using the IVF embryos they had created together, the Sunday Times has reported. The couple were treated for infertility at Bourn Hall clinic, near Cambridge, and the resulting embryos...
30 April 2007 - by Dr Anna Smajdor 
On 10 April 2007, Natallie Evans lost the final stage of a four year legal battle for the right to implant embryos created with her eggs and the sperm of her former partner. Ms Evans had been diagnosed with cancer, and treatment necessitated the removal of her ovaries, leaving her...
10 April 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK woman fighting to use stored frozen embryos against the wishes of her former partner has lost her final appeal. Natallie Evans underwent IVF with Howard Johnston in 2001, before Ms Evans had treatment for ovarian cancer that left her infertile. Mr Johnston later withdrew...
8 December 2006 - by Professor Sally Sheldon 
2006 has witnessed significant litigation regarding the disposal of stored embryos. In the UK, the long-running court battle waged by Natallie Evans has reached its final chapter. Having lost her ovaries to cancer treatment, previously stored embryos created from Ms Evans' eggs and her ex-partner's sperm represent Ms Evans' last...
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...
25 June 2004 - by BioNews 
The UK's Court of Appeal has ruled that Natallie Evans cannot use the IVF embryos she created with her former partner. Natallie was one of two British women legally prevented, due to the withdrawal of consent by their ex-partners, from using embryos kept in frozen storage. The embryos represent her...
21 May 2004 - by Muiris Lyons 
Natallie Evans was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous ovarian condition and had to undergo surgery to have her ovaries removed. Before this happened, she underwent IVF treatment from which six embryos were created and are in frozen storage. She wants to use the embryos as she is desperate to have a...
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...
1 October 2003 - by BioNews 
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...
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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