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European court to rule on frozen embryo case

6 March 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 348

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 to the UK's House of Lords - the UK's highest court - in December 2004. Her case had previously been rejected first by the High Court in September 2003 and then again by the Court of Appeal in June 2004. Ms Evans' was 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 as contained in the European Convention on 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 hearing last 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. However, the ECHR expedited Ms Evans' claim because of the nature of the case.

The issues that have been under consideration by the ECHR are that Ms Evans' rights under Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (right not to be discriminated against) have been breached. The court identified two main questions that needed to be addressed. The first was whether the requirement under the HFE Act 1990 of the father's consent to the continued storage and implantation of the fertilised eggs breach the applicant's right to respect for her private and family life under Article 8. Secondly, the court has considered whether the requirement resulted in her suffering discrimination, contrary to Article 14 taken in conjunction with Article 8, in comparison to a woman with intact ovaries who could either conceive without assistance or produce sufficient eggs for repeated attempts at IVF.

'These embryos represent Natallie's last chance to have a natural child of her own', said Muiris Lyons, Natallie Evans' solicitor, adding 'the decision on Tuesday marks the end of a long and hard legal battle which Natallie has had to fight in an effort simply to be allowed to use her own embryos'. Ms Evans, commenting on the fact she had to take her case to Europe, said: 'I felt that I had to pursue every possible route to save my embryos. I had hoped to have done this in the UK, but in the end I had no other choice than to take my case to Europe'. She added: 'I just want what every woman wants - to have a baby'.

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