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European court denies UK prisoner's IVF request

24 April 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 355

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that a British man who is serving a life sentence in prison for murder does not have the right to be allowed access to IVF treatment. Thirty-four year old Kirk Dickson alleged that the UK Government had breached his right to found a family under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights by denying access to the treatment, as well as his right to family life under Article 8.

Mr Dickson was found guilty of murder in 1994 and given a life sentence, with a minimum 15-year tariff. This means that the earliest he could be released from prison is in 2009, when he will be 37. His wife, whom he met via a prison pen-pal service and married in 1999 while she was also still imprisoned, will be 51 years old by that time.

Mr Dickson and his wife applied to the Home Office asking to be allowed to use IVF in order to conceive a child. When the Home Office refused, the couple challenged the decision in the UK courts. Having exhausted the domestic courts, the couple took their case to the ECHR at Strasbourg. The ECHR ruled, by a bare majority, that the UK's Government had not infringed the rights of Mr and Mrs Dickson.

The majority judgment, supported by four of the seven judges who heard the case, said that the court had recognised 'the difficult situation in which the applicants find themselves', owing to there being no alternative way for them to have children together. However, the nature of the crime committed had to be taken into account, said the court, as well as the welfare of any child that might be conceived under the circumstances, even though there was little likelihood of the couple conceiving a child naturally upon Mr Dickson's release. 'I am far from persuaded that giving life to a child in the meanest circumstances could be viewed as an exercise on promoting its finest interests', said one of the judges. He added that he was 'not particularly impressed by the argument that society regularly allows children to be born in similar or worse circumstances'. 'The state in this case is being asked to become an active accomplice and participant in this future conception', he said.

However, three of the judges disagreed with the majority. In his dissenting judgment, Judge Borrego Borrego, of Spain said that the UK Goverment's attitude towards reproduction in these circumstances was 'paternalistic' and appeared 'hostile to conception other than in conditions of guaranteed family stability'. Mr and Mrs Dickson now have three months to decide whether they want to take their case further, and appeal to the Grand Chamber of the ECHR, where 17 judges would hear their case.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Human rights court deny pair baby
BBC News Online |  20 April 2006
Murderer loses fight for right to IVF
Daily Telegraph |  19 April 2006
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