Women 'devastated' after losing battle to use frozen embryos

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The rights of men to demand the destruction of frozen embryos after a relationship has broken down were upheld by the High Court yesterday in a landmark judgment.

Mr Justice Wall ruled that two women who underwent IVF treatment with their partners must respect the men's wishes to withdraw consent to use the embryos.

Natallie Evans, 31, and Lorraine Hadley, 38, were in court yesterday to hear the judge reject their arguments to allow them to continue with the treatment even though it was Ms Evans's last chance to have natural children of her own.

Ms Evans, from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, who had her ovaries removed after they were found to contain pre-cancerous cells, met her former partner, Howard Johnston, in 1999. They lived together until last year when he ended the relationship.

She claims that Mr Johnston led her to believe that he would never stop her using the embryos as he knew how important having a child was to her.

Lorraine Hadley, of Sandwell, West Midlands, was married to Wayne until he left her for another woman in 2000. When they separated, Mr Hadley agreed the embryos should remain in storage but later changed his mind.

Lawyers argued that the women's rights to use the embryos overrode those of their partners. But Mr Justice Wall said while he had "considerable sympathy" for both women the laws governing IVF treatment were clear.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act says that, unless both parties consent to storage and use, the embryos must be destroyed.

Mr Justice Wall said that if the law were to be changed then it was a job for Parliament and not the courts. Expressing his sympathy to the parties involved, the judge said: "Ms Evans's case is particularly poignant, and she is most deserving of sympathy, because she has had to have an operation for the removal of her ovaries immediately following the harvesting of her eggs, and the frozen embryos represent her only chance of giving birth to a child which is genetically hers."

"However, I cannot allow my sympathy for Ms Evans to take precedence over the clear terms of the Act."

Of the men involved, he said: "The Act entitles a man ... to say that he does not want to become the father of a child by a woman from whom he has separated, and with whom he now no longer has anything in common apart from the frozen embryos."

The court ruled that Mr Johnston and Mr Hadley had a lawful and unconditional right to withdraw their consent from the transfer and storage of the embryos.

Ms Evans and Mrs Hadley had argued that this right constituted an unwarranted "male veto" which infringed their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Justice Wall said these rights, including family and private life, were also enjoyed by Mr Johnston and Mr Hadley who have an equal claim to have them respected.

The judge refused the women leave to appeal and said they should apply to the Court of Appeal for permission. But he granted a stay on his order for the destruction of the embryos and accepted undertakings from the two IVF clinics not to destroy them before any appeal has been resolved.

The judge said: "This litigation has gone on for a long time and has caused the parties a great deal of distress and expense. In my judgment it is time that it came to an end."

Ms Evans was later described in a statement as "devastated" by the ruling. Her solicitor, Muiris Lyons, said: "To say that Natallie is disappointed would be an understatement. She is absolutely devastated. Her frozen embryos represented her last chance to have a child of her own. We will now have to consider whether or not to appeal."

Mrs Hadley's solicitor said: "Naturally, Lorraine is very upset and disappointed at the decision. We will now consider the merits of an appeal on her behalf."

In a statement issued by his solicitors, Mr Hadley said he was delighted with the outcome. He said: "I had never wanted the matter to come to court and have been overwhelmed by the whole court process and the media coverage that has surrounded the case."

He added: "I have no ill-feeling towards Lorraine and no desire to cause her any further distress. I hope that the matter is now concluded, although I anticipate that given the complexity, and the fact that the case is ... a test case, that an appeal may be lodged."