European Court Denies Woman Right To Implant Her Embryos


The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that an infertile British woman cannot implant frozen embryos produced with the sperm of her former fiance. In 2000, Natalie Evans had her ovaries removed due to a precancerous condition. Beforehand, she produced six eggs which were fertlized with the sperm of her fiance Howard Johnston and then frozen for later implantation. These six embryos are the only way for Evans to have a chance of bearing genetically related children.

Evans and Johnston broke up and Johnston withdrew his consent for implantation. Under British law, both donors must give consent right up to the point of implantation. Johnston says that he does not want to bear the financial and emotional burden of fatherhood. The European Court upheld the British law requiring mutual consent.

There have been similar cases in the United States where courts have generally held that both donors must consent to implantation unless there is a contract specifying otherwise.

The first lesson of such cases is that clear agreements on how embryos will be used are essential before they are created. In this case, the court ruling is legally proper, but nevertheless seems unjust to me. Surely it would be possible for Evans and Johnston to reach an agreement in which he would be legally treated as an anonymous sperm donor from whom Evans would have no right to demand financial or emotional support. If such an agreement is not reached, the embryos will be destroyed in October.