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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Women lose embryo battle
Lorraine Hadley (left) and Natallie Evans
Lorraine Hadley and Natallie Evans at the High Court on Wednesday
Two women have lost their High Court battle to use their frozen embryos against the will of their former partners.

Natallie Evans and Lorraine Hadley were challenging a law which says both parties must consent to the storage and use of embryos at every stage of the IVF process.

They have been refused the right to appeal, but could take their case to the Court of Appeal or on to the European Courts.

The High Court ruled the embryos of both women should be destroyed - but that will not happen until the conclusion of the appeals process.

Fertility clinics will now have to counsel couples having IVF to consider carefully what would happen to any embryos that were created if they split up.

We feel it would be a very dangerous step to change the rules on consent retrospectively
Dr Michael Wilks, British Medical Association
Both women have said throughout the case that the frozen embryos represent their only chance of having a child naturally.

They argued that preventing them from using the embryos infringed their human rights.

The women said if they had fallen pregnant naturally, and then split up with their partners, the men would have no say over whether or not they could have their babies.

But the Judge Justice Wall said that, although he had sympathy for the women's situation, he could not over-rule the law as it stood.

He said it was up to Parliament, rather than the High Court, to decide if the law in this area needed to be changed.

Joint consent

Ms Evans, 30, of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, had six embryos frozen before undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, which left her infertile.

They were created using Ms Evans' eggs and her boyfriend Howard Johnston's sperm.

However, the couple later separated, and Mr Johnston asked for the embryos to be destroyed.

Ms Evans said that if she had known her partner was likely to change his mind, she would have chosen a different course of treatment.

Ms Hadley, 37, from Baswich, Staffordshire, brought a similar action against her ex-husband.

She has a 17-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, but suffers from fertility problems because of a medical condition.

Ms Hadley had two embryos in storage, which were created while she was still married to her husband, Wayne.

But he has said he does not want a child to be born so many years after they split up.

Competing interests

The solicitor for the women, Muiris Lyons, said after the judgement: "To say that Natallie is disappointed would be an understatement.

Howard Johnston arriving at the High Court
Howard Johnston arriving at the High Court to hear the judgment
"She is devastated by the judgement. To her, those embryos are her babies."

He said Lorraine Hadley believed that "life had already been created, and she wants to finish what she started."

But James Grigg, solicitor for Howard Johnston, said: "Mr Johnston firmly believes that this outcome could be the only one, given the circumstances.

"With the conclusion of his relationship with Ms Evans, he would not now elect to start a family with her."

He said if a child had been born, Mr Johnson would have legal, financial, emotional and moral responsibility for it.

He added: "Mr Johnston hopes that Ms Evans wish to start a family can be satisfied in some other way, perhaps using donor eggs."

Julie Aston, Wayne Hadley's solicitor, said he too did not want a child to be born because the relationship had ended.

"If a child was to be born as a result of IVF, it would be born into circumstances where the couple were no longer together - and he feels that that would be wrong."

The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act says embryos cannot be implanted in a woman unless both partners involved in their creation consent to the procedure.

But the women's lawyers argued that the Act breached the women's human rights under European law.

'Valid consent'

Suzi Leather, of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "The judgement is clear, the law has been clear since 1990 when it was passed by Parliament - but I don't think that takes away the pain for the women involved."

Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA ethics committee said today: "While empathising with the situation of both women we feel it would be a very dangerous step to change the rules on consent retrospectively.

"The couples clearly agreed that the embryos could only be used with the go-ahead of both parties.

"Consent was given on the basis that it could be withdrawn or varied at any time up until the embryos were used in treatment.

"The principle of valid consent is an important one that must be upheld."

Ian Mackay, of Families Need Fathers, said: "I think it's a very sad day for these women. But I think, ultimately, the decision is right."

"Both partners have a claim over that embryo and have a right up to implantation."

But Josephine Quintavalle, director of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) said: "It is simply not acceptable for the fathers in question to refuse to allow the implantation of these tiny human lives.

"The men gave their free consent at the time of the conception of the embryos, and should now accept the full responsibility of that decision."

She said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act "yet again shows itself to be wearing very thin at the seams".

Your views:

These women should be allowed to have their embryos with the understanding that they may or may not receive support for them
Kathy Chatmon, USA
There are many fathers who have not lived up to their financial obligations or emotional support to a child. These fathers had the desire to be parents but walked away from the responsibilities. It is no difference between the two men mentioned in the article. These women should be allowed to have their embryos with the understanding that they may or may not receive support for them.
Kathy Chatmon, USA

This obsession with producing offspring through a science lab is beyond me. The world is overpopulated and millions of people are without food or water..........yet selfish narrow minded people want a "child of their own". This kind of thing shows really what a sad state this world is in and how we have abused our scientific development like a spoilt child abuses its favourite toy.
Richard, New Zealand

The question for me remains: why were the eggs fertilized at all? Why weren't unfertilised eggs stored for the future use of these unfortunate women? This should be addressed by the HFEA and perhaps considered by Parliament.
S. Powell, UK

While it is difficult for the women who want children, I feel that the children have rights as well. If these embryos went on to produce a child, they would only have their mother, with the father not wishing involvement. This is unfair for the child involved. The other issue is whether the natural father would have to pay maintenance for the child. If this is the case, it would be extremely unfair for the father.
Gillian Booth, Scotland

If the law had been overturned it would have left the way open for the violation of the human rights of all men
Karen, UK
Consent should be required from both parents for a child to be conceived. As devastating as this result is for both women, if the law had been overturned it would have left the way open for the violation of the human rights of all men. It would mean that their consent was meaningless.
Karen, UK

As the IVF discussion hinges on the argument of the HUMAN rights involved, it would be interesting to hear what the women would have said if the potential fathers in this case had insisted on their rights to a child, against the wishes of the mothers. If men and women are equal before the law, a judgement in favour of the women involved would also have implied that a man could insist his ex-partner should carry his baby whether she wanted to or not!
Nigel, Belgium

Would these women object if these embryos were used by the father without their permission? Surely if women had this right then it would follow that men should too.
J. Green, UK

I wonder how much of this whole thing centres around the CSA? Perhaps if the fathers in cases like this were allowed exemption from paying maintenance, then they would concede to the women's desire to have the child?
Jason Andreas, Scotland

Sadly these cases arise out of sheer spite on the part of the two men. They can go off and father children with other women, their ex-partners have no such chance for the future.
E. Taylor, UK

The point is, surely, that the embryonic people already exist. They should have the right to progress to birth.
Amette Ley, UK

It is very sad the situation these women find themselves in. However to bring a child into this world does require the consent and love of both parents.
A. Khan, UK

The BBC's Karen Allen
"IVF regulators have welcomed the judgement"

Embryo fight couples in court
19 Sep 02 |  Health
IVF wrangle cases go to court
11 Sep 02 |  Health
Head to head: Embryo court case
01 Oct 03 |  Health

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