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Natallie Evans will take her case to Europe

15 February 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 296

Natallie Evans, a British woman seeking the right to be able to use her own frozen IVF embryos, is taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The embryos were created using her own eggs and sperm from her then partner, who later withdrew 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. In December last year, the House of Lords refused to allow her appeal, after both the UK's High Court and Court of Appeal had previously rejected her case. The Law Lords said 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'.

The High Court decided in September 2003 that Ms Evans' embryos must be destroyed as, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (HFE Act), 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 Secondly, that the HFE Act is wrong, if it allows consent to be withdrawn after the embryos have been created. Thirdly, that in any event, it was too late for consent to be withdrawn as, technically, the embryos had already been 'used' as part of her treatment.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'.

Ms Evans has now lodged an application to have her case heard by the ECHR. She is asking the court to consider whether the law contained in the HFE Act, which requires her to destroy her embryos, is in breach of her human rights. Her claim is based on Article 2 of the Human Rights Convention, which guarantees the right to life; Article 8 (respect for private and family life), and Article 14, which Miss Evans claims makes it unlawful to discriminate against her because of her infertility. The claim under Article 2 is that the embryos have a qualified right to life of their own, an untested argument at the ECHR. Muiris Lyons, the solicitor dealing with Ms Evans' case, said that the argument 'goes to the heart of the debate about when life is created'. He added: 'It is an argument that has not yet been considered by the ECHR and the court's ruling could have a profound effect on the law, medicine and science'.

Muiris Lyons continued, saying 'Natallie has now been left with no other choice than to take her case to Europe'. Natallie Evans told the BBC 'I feel that I have to pursue every possible route to save my embryos', adding: 'I hoped that I could have done so in the UK, but I now have no other choice but to take my case to Europe'. Mr Lyons also said he was going to ask the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to keep the embryos in storage while her case was being considered by the ECHR, a legal process that normally takes several years.

Embryo case woman asks human rights court to let her have baby
The Scotsman |  15 February 2005
European challenge to save embryos
The Daily Telegraph |  15 February 2005
Frozen embryo case goes to Europe
BBC News Online |  14 February 2005
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...
6 December 2004 - by BioNews 
The UK's House of Lords has refused to allow an appeal from Natallie Evans, a woman seeking to be able to use frozen IVF 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...
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...
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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