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US Supreme Court refuses to hear embryo appeal

19 May 2008
Appeared in BioNews 458

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a Texan woman after state courts refused to grant her permission to implant embryos created using the sperm of her ex-husband, after he withdrew his consent.

Augusta Roman sought a ruling that would allow her to implant the stored embryos created in 2002 using her own eggs, and sperm donated by her husband at the time, Randy Roman. The couple entered into an agreement to the effect that upon divorce, any embryos that were not implanted would be discarded. It is reported that Randy withdrew his consent just hours before Augusta was to undergo a procedure to implant the embryos, after which he issued divorce proceedings.

Augusta would not agree to destroy the embryos, and initially won the right to use them after the district court ruled it was her constitutional right to do so. The decision was later reversed by the Texas First Court of Appeals, which ruled the couple had made a contractual and binding agreement to destroy the embryos if they divorced. It is the second time Augusta has applied to the US Supreme Court for an appeal, the first application being refused last April.

In other jurisdictions the courts have also ruled in this way. In the UK, Natalie Evans tried and failed to convince the courts to allow her to use frozen embryos created using the sperm of her former partner, after he had withdrawn consent. Natalie Evans unsuccessfully took her case to the European Court of Human Rights and then the Grand Chamber last year when it ruled that her right to become a parent should not be afforded more weight than her ex-partner's right not to become a parent.

In Ireland, the High Court ruled against Mary Roche who also wanted to implant stored embryos after her husband had withdrawn his consent upon the couple's separation. The Court later held in a separate ruling that frozen embryos were not covered under the 1983 constitutional abortion amendment protecting the right to life of 'the unborn' and that destroying them was permissible under Irish law.

In the US, Randy Roman's lawyer, Greg Enos, said that the case reveals how contracts over the use of stored embryos will be upheld. 'This landmark case for Texas now makes it clear that couples will be bound by the agreements they sign with fertility clinics,' he said: 'Augusta Roman would have been much better off five years ago trying to have children with an anonymous sperm donor rather than wasting tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees and five years trying to get out of the specific legal agreement she signed'.

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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...
4 June 2007 - by Danielle Hamm 
A divorced couple have applied to the Texas Supreme Court for rights over frozen embryos, created using their egg and sperm whilst they were still married. Randy and Augusta Roman underwent fertility treatment together before they separated in 2002. On the eve of the day the embryos...
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...
20 November 2006 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The Irish High Court has ruled that frozen embryos are not covered under the 1983 constitutional abortion amendment (Article 40.3.3) protecting the right to life of 'the unborn'. The ruling comes as the second part of the court's previous decision forbidding Mary Roche from implanting her embryos...
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