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UK woman loses final embryo appeal

10 April 2007
Appeared in BioNews 402

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 his consent for the six embryos to be used when the couple split up. The Grand Chamber of the European Court today ruled unanimously that there had been no breach of the right to life (Article 2) of the European Convention on Human Rights. On the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) and the prohibition of discrimination (Article 14), the judges ruled 13 to four against Ms Evans.

Ms Evans, now aged 35, first took her request to use the embryos without Mr Johnston's permission to the UK's High Court in 2003, but lost both the case and a subsequent appeal. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also ruled against her, so Ms Evans final appeal to the Grand Chamber represented her last chance to save the embryos from destruction. The UK's law, in the form of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990, requires continued consent from both parties in order for embryos to be used or remain in storage.

Commenting on the ruling, Ms Evans said: 'I am distraught at the court's decision. It is very hard for me to accept the embryos will be destroyed'. But Mr Johnston said: 'I feel common sense has prevailed. Of course I am sympathetic, but I wanted to choose when, if and with whom I would have a child'. Dr Allan Pacey, secretary of the British Fertility Society (BFS) also felt the right decision had been made. 'As in many countries, the UK has clearly established principles of shared responsibility from both the sperm and egg provider concerning the fate of any frozen embryos up until the point that they are transferred back into a woman', he said.

Anna Smajdor, a researcher in medical ethics at Imperial College, London, commented that Britain was 'obsessed with the idea that shared genes are the essence of parenthood'. She said: 'There is something deeply amiss here. Ms Evans is not allowed to have her embryos implanted without her ex's consent, yet he - effectively - is allowed to have them destroyed without hers'. But Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the British Medical Association's medical ethics committee, echoed the sentiments of many fertility experts when he said: 'We welcome the fact that the European court has supported the principle of consent from all parties. Having a child is a lifelong undertaking to which both partners should be fully committed'.

Woman loses final embryo appeal
BBC News Online |  10 April 2007
Woman loses final embryos appeal
The Guardian |  10 April 2007
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Procreative liberty and the right to legal recognition of parent-child relationships continue to be prominent themes in disputes between individual citizens and government over access to assisted reproduction. The judiciary has been largely reluctant to state whether resort to reproductive technology is a human right...
17 May 2010 - by Peter D Sozou, Geraldine M Hartshorne and Sally Sheldon 
Embryos created by IVF can be cryopreserved (stored) for possible future use. All couples who have embryos stored in the UK are currently bound by law to a single form of agreement, allowing each genetic parent to withdraw consent at any time before the embryo is transferred. This article makes the case for allowing an alternative consent agreement...
17 May 2010 - by Dr Anna Smajdor 
When Natallie Evans lost her case to prevent the destruction of her embryos in 2007, many people were moved by her plight. The letter of the law had been followed, but with tragic consequences for her...
5 January 2010 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Autonomy is commonly thought of as a guiding ethical principle which promotes the ability of an individual to determine their own 'life path'. It is commonly translated in the legal area in positive terms of self-determinism and negative constraints of non-interference. But the term holds a special meaning in the ethics/rights discourse as an inalienable virtuous human quality which generates rights and warrants respect...
21 December 2009 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Ireland has ruled that a woman may not use her frozen embryos after her estranged husband, whose sperm was used to create them, refused consent. Mary Roche, 43, and her husband Thomas had one child in 1997. They then turned to IVF treatment at the SIMS Fertility Clinic in Rathgar, Dublin, which produced six embryos. Three of the embryos were implanted, resulting in the birth of one child. The other thr...
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...
7 March 2006 - by BioNews 
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has issued its judgment in the case of Evans v the United Kingdom. Natallie Evans, a British woman seeking the right to be able to use her own frozen IVF embryos, asked the court last September to rule whether UK law preventing her...
6 March 2006 - by BioNews 
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...
28 September 2005 - by BioNews 
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...
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