UK woman loses final embryo appeal
Dr Jess Buxton
Progress Educational Trust10 April 2007
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'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.