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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 March 2006, 11:36 GMT
Woman loses frozen embryos fight
Natallie Evans

A woman left infertile after cancer treatment cannot use frozen embryos to have a baby, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

Natallie Evans started IVF treatment with her then partner Howard Johnston in 2001 but he withdrew consent for the embryos to be used after they split up.

Ms Evans went to the Strasbourg court after exhausting the UK legal process.

She now hopes to appeal to the Grand Jury of the European Court, but still wants her ex-fiancÚ to change his mind.

The key thing for me was just to be able to decide when, and if, I would start a family
Howard Johnston

Ms Evans said: "I'm still as determined to do whatever it takes to have a child of my own."

She added: "Howard may feel it's too late for him to change his mind, but it's not."

But Mr Johnston said: "It seems that common sense has prevailed.

"The key thing for me was just to be able to decide when, and if, I would start a family."

READ THE FULL JUDGEMENT
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But he added: "I'm not thinking about this in terms of a victory."

Ms Evans' legal team had asked the judges to consider whether the UK law, under which the six stored embryos would be destroyed in October this year, was in breach of her human rights.

Right-to-life

A panel of seven judges made the ruling, which read: "The Court, like the national courts, had great sympathy for the plight of the applicant who, if implantation did not take place, would be deprived of the ability to give birth to her own child."

I'm still as determined to do whatever it takes to have a child of my own
Natallie Evans

But it was ruled, in a majority verdict that, even in such exceptional circumstances as Ms Evans', the right to a family life - enshrined in article eight of the European Convention of Human Rights - could not override Mr Johnston's withdrawal of consent.

It also ruled unanimously that the embryos did not have an independent right to life.

Cancer diagnosis

The UK's Court of Appeal and High Court had both ruled that Ms Evans, who is in her early 30s, could not use the embryos and she failed in her bid to take the case to the House of Lords.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Consent cannot and should not be overridden
Patricia, London, UK

Ms Evans, from Wiltshire, underwent IVF treatment following a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in which the embryos were created and placed in storage.

She has argued that Mr Johnston, from Gloucester, had already consented to their creation, storage and use, and should not be allowed to change his mind.

Current UK laws require both the man and woman to give consent, and allow either party to withdraw that consent up to the point where the embryos are implanted.

A Department of Health spokeswoman welcomed the European Court judgment.

She said the department recognised the distress caused to Ms Evans during the legal process, and added a review of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which included the issue of the storage of embryos, was currently underway.

'Ticking clock'

Josephine Quintavalle of the pro-life group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said of the court's ruling: "It's an inevitable judgement, but a very sad one."

She said Mr Johnston had "become a father" when the embryos were created, and should have compassion for Ms Evans.

But Michael Wilks, of the BMA ethics committee, said: "It's the right verdict, but a terrible situation."

However Dr Wilks called for a change to the five year limit for embryos to be stored after one partner withdraws consent should be extended so there was less of a "ticking clock".


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