Women in court plea to save frozen embryos

Two women will ask the High Court in London today to save their frozen embryos from destruction after their relationships broke down and their former partners withdrew consent for the embryos to be used in IVF treatment.

The landmark case challenges the right that male partners have to hold a "veto" over the use of embryos made from their sperm.

Lawyers for Natallie Evans, 31, from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, and Lorraine Hadley, 38, from Baswich, Stafford, want the court to restrict the rights of male partners involved in IVF treatment to those of men whose partner conceives through sexual intercourse. The women's solicitor, Muiris Lyons, said yesterday that the current law governing IVF treatment violated her clients' human right to have a family.

The plight of Ms Evans is particularly acute. During a routine medical check-up, doctors discovered that she had pre-cancerous ovaries, which had to be removed. So these frozen embryos represent her only chance to have a child.

"This case is of the utmost importance to my clients, particularly Natallie," said Ms Lyons. "She is determined to do everything in her power to save her embryos from destruction."

Under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, both partners must consent to the creation and storage of the embryos and to their use "in the provision of treatment services". Consent can be withdrawn at any time before the embryos are used.

But Ms Lyons, of the Bath solicitors Withy King, argues that "use" does not simply mean the act of implanting the embryos - it also includes other aspects of the IVF process.

Ms Evans is also relying on the common law doctrine of "equitable estoppel". This says that if you promise somebody something, and they rely on that promise to their detriment, you are "estopped", or prevented, from going back on your word.