UK IVF consent laws ‘do not breach human rights’

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has affirmed UK law requiring both parents to consent to the implantation of embryos, even when they have already been created.

The ECHR’s Grand Chamber ruled today that the six embryos created by Natallie Evans and her former partner Howard Johnston must be destroyed after Mr Johnston withdrew his support.

Ms Evans had earlier lost an initial hearing and appeal at the High Court in the UK and the ECHR also ruled against her last year.

The 17-judge Grand Chamber today rejected Ms Evans’ last ditch argument that she had a right to use the embryos without her ex-fiancee’s consent. Her lawyers argued that the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, the ECHR did not agree that UK law broke the right to a private and family life, granted under article eight. It also rejected Ms Evans’ claim that the law violated article 14, the right not to be discriminated against, as it hinged a possible pregnancy on her partner’s consent.

The Department of Health said it would consider the European Court’s Grand Chamber’s judgement “very carefully”.

A spokesman added: “We recognise the distress which Ms Evans feels, and also the concerns of both her and Mr Johnston during the process of this case through the UK courts and the European Court.”

Ms Evans and her former partner began IVF treatment in 2001 after Ms Evans was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When Mr Johnston ordered the embryo’s to be destroyed following the couple’s split, Ms Evans took her case to the High Court in 2003.

She argued Mr Johnston had already agreed to create, store and use the embryos and should not be able to change his mind. However, UK law states both parties must consent to the creation and use of embryos and can withdraw this consent up until implantation.

Ms Evans said she was “distraught” at the decision and the knowledge she will never become a mother. Her solicitor Muiris Lyons of law firm Irwin, added: “Natallie is bitterly disappointed and hugely upset by this decision. This was her last chance to become a mother and it now appears likely that, unless Mr Johnston changes his mind, the embryos will be destroyed.

“Natallie has shown great courage and determination throughout this battle. All she has ever asked for is the chance to use her embryos to bring her own child into the world. It is a great tragedy that the law prevents her from achieving this simple goal. Her legal fight is now over. Her sad loss will remain forever.”