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European Court of Human Rights hears embryo claim

28 September 2005
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 328

Natallie Evans, a British woman seeking the right to be able to use her own frozen IVF embryos, has asked the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to consider her case. Last December, the UK's highest court - the House of Lords - refused to hear her appeal, after her case was rejected first by the High Court in September 2003 and then again by the Court of Appeal in June 2004. Ms Evans' is now asking the ECHR to consider whether the law contained in the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE Act) 1990, which requires her to destroy her embryos, is in breach of her human rights.

The embryos in question were created in 2001 using Ms Evans' own eggs and sperm from her then partner, who later withdrew his consent to their use. The HFE Act requires continued consent from both parties in order for embryos to be used or remain in storage. A withdrawal of consent means that the embryos should be destroyed. The embryos represent Ms Evans' last chance to have her own biologically related child, as her ovaries were removed when they were found to be cancerous. At a previous hearing earlier this year, permission was granted to keep the embryos in storage while the human rights case was heard and until an outcome was finalised, a legal process that normally takes several years.

The human rights issues under consideration by the ECHR are that the embryos themselves have a qualified right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights - an as yet untested argument at the ECHR. Natallie Evans has also 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 Convention. Lastly, she has argued that the law discriminates against her because of her infertility, in breach of Article 14 of the Convention, in allowing their 'fate to be entirely determined by her partner'.

After the ECHR hearing, Ms Evans said that she had 'had some knock-backs in the UK and that is why we are here today', adding 'we had a really good hearing. I am just keeping everything crossed'. A decision is not expected for several months, but if the ECHR agrees with Natallie Evans, it will mean that the current law has to be changed. The issue of consent is already one area of the law under consultation by the UK's Department of Health. Its public consultation document on the review of the HFE Act 'invites views on whether the law should be changed to require the withdrawal of consent of both parties whose gametes were used to create an embryo in order to allow a stored embryo to perish'.

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Last chance in frozen embryo case
BBC News Online |  27 September 2005
Woman takes frozen embryo case to European Court
The Times |  27 September 2005
Woman takes frozen embryos battle to human rights court
The Guardian |  27 September 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...
15 February 2005 - by BioNews 
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...
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...
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...
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