Page last updated at 09:00 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Couple in embryo court battle

Frozen embryo storage
The embryos are being stored in a Belfast hospital

A County Derry couple have launched a court action to stop the destruction of stored embryos said to be their last chance at having children.

They took the action after narrowly falling outside new rules which relax the upper age limit at which a woman can have an embryo implanted.

From 1 October an age limit of 55 was removed, but the woman involved had reached that age days earlier.

That means continued retention of their embryos is currently illegal

However, the couple have been granted an injunction guaranteeing nothing is done with them until the legal challenge is decided.

They are also seeking permission to be allowed to transport the embryos to the Republic of Ireland should they fail to ensure their retention within the United Kingdom.


The case centres on whether or not the laws are compatible with their right to family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Changes to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act have shifted the rules away from an upper age for the woman in which the embryo is to be implanted.

Rather than prohibiting her from being 55 or over, it is now the embryo itself which cannot be any older than that.

Remarking on the fact that the woman had fallen just outside the scope of the changes, her barrister, Monye Anyadike-Danes QC, told the court: "How unlucky is that? There is no hope for her in these guidelines."

It was stressed that continued retention under the current laws would be committing a criminal offence.


The embryos are currently being held at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.

Mr Justice Treacy has been told that should anything happen to them there was "no prospect whatsoever of this particular couple having genetic children".

David Scoffield, for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), stressed how any questions about storage should be taken up with the regional fertility centre.

However, he also confirmed that a special directions meeting had been convened to discuss the issue of allowing the embryos to be taken out of Northern Ireland.

"What we were asked for was to allow the embryos to be exported to the Republic," he said.

"Having done that we say our role in the case is now complete because the central issue to which the applicants have returned is the question of whether the embryos can, or should, be stored here in the UK."

With the couple set to put the health secretary on notice as a potential respondent in their challenge, the case was adjourned until later this month.

The judge rejected a bid to have the case held in private despite being told it was the couple's personal preference for no publicity.

However, he granted temporary anonymity until their lawyers give full reasons for why their identities should not be disclosed.

Print Sponsor

New embryo hopes as rule changes
09 Sep 09 |  England
Warning issued over egg freezing
17 Oct 07 |  Health
Longest frozen embryo baby born
06 Jul 05 |  Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific