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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 March 2006, 11:55 GMT
Q&A: Frozen embryos case
Natallie Evans
Natallie Evans had gone through the UK legal system before going to Europe
A woman has been fighting a long court action to be able to use frozen embryos to have a child, without her ex-partner's consent.

Q: Why did Natallie Evans have her embryos frozen?

Ms Evans, 35, from Trowbridge in Wiltshire, had her ovaries removed during treatment for cancer.

Six embryos were created before her treatment using her eggs and her fiancÚ Howard Johnston's sperm.

But the relationship ended, and Mr Johnston asked for the embryos to be destroyed because he no longer wanted to have a child with Ms Evans.

Q: Were any other options open to her?

Ms Evans could have had her eggs fertilised by a donor sperm.

Court papers have revealed this was discussed when the couple received IVF treatment as Ms Evans wanted to guard against the possibility of her relationship with Mr Johnston ending. But she was reassured this would not happen.

Since they underwent treatment, egg freezing has developed. It is being used by women who undergo cancer treatment, especially those not in a relationship, as a way of having children later.

But the procedure is more tricky than freezing sperm or fertilised embryos.

Only a minority of the UK's 84 fertility clinics currently offer an egg freezing service.

Q: What legal arguments have been used?

Ms Evans argued that if she had fallen pregnant naturally and then split up with her partner, he would have had no say over whether they had the child.

Her solicitor has argued that the requirement for both parties to consent to the implantation - enshrined in the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act - breached her human rights under European law.

They said it was unfair that a former partner had a "complete veto" over whether or not IVF treatment took place.

Her solicitor also argued that no viable embryo should be allowed to perish if a parent wants it to live.

Q: What are the issues for the potential father?

Howard Johnston said he did not want the financial or emotional burden of having a child with Ms Evans.

If the case had been successful, he - and any other man in his situation - would have had to take legal responsibility for the child.

Following the judgement, he just wanted the chance to decide when, or if, he would start a family.

Q: What have the UK courts decided?

The Appeal Court and the High Court judgments both said the man's consent was needed at every stage for IVF treatment to go ahead.

This is set down in the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

The judge at the High Court hearing said he had sympathy with the women's situations, but could not over-rule the law in this area.

Q: What did the European Court decide?

The court was asked to rule whether the UK laws governing consent for fertility treatment - enshrined in the 1990 Human Embryology and Fertilisation Act - violated the human rights of Ms Evans or the embryos.

A panel of seven judges has supported UK law, and ruled against Ms Evans' proposal that embryos had an independent right-to-life.

It was also decided, by a majority of five to two, that Ms Evans' right to a family life was not sufficient to override Mr Johnston's withdrawal of consent to IVF treatment.

But the five said a different legal balance might have been struck by UK parliament in drawing up the legislation, perhaps by making the consent of the male donor irrevocable.

Ms Evans than appealed to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, but the 17 judges rejected the case.

Q: What happens next?

The embryos will now be destroyed. This is likely to happen in the next month, unless Mr Johnston changes his mind.

Ms Evans made an appeal to him after the latest ruling, but Mr Johnston said he would not be changing his mind.

Ms Evans could now use donated eggs to have children or adopt. Her solicitor has said she needs time to come to terms with the ruling, but may consider these in the future.

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