A custody battle over frozen embryos

A British woman sues for legal control over the embryos she created with her former fianc

Published March 7, 2006 11:01PM (EST)

Earlier today we reported that Britain's National Health Service recently began sponsoring fertility treatments for single women. But despite that sweeping move, a story from today's BBC News makes it clear that some of the thorny legal and moral aspects of in vitro fertilization remain very much in contention in the country.

The BBC report focuses on the legal battle of Natallie Evans, 34, who today, in a five-to-two ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, lost the latest round in her ongoing quest to secure the use of embryos she had frozen five years ago.

At the time the embryos were created, Evans had recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Knowing her treatment would render her infertile, she and her fiancé, Howard Johnston, elected to begin preparations for IVF. But later, when the couple's relationship ended, Johnston requested that the frozen embryos be destroyed, saying he no longer wished to father a child with Evans. Evans took him to court to stop the procedure, claiming that as the embryos were her only chance to conceive a biological child, it was unfair that her former partner could have "a complete veto" over her decision to use them. According to the BBC, Evans also "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." Johnston countered that "he did not want the financial or emotional burden of having a child with Ms. Evans" and pointed out that "if the case [was] successful, he -- and any other man in his situation -- would have had to take legal responsibility for the child."

Today's decision was founded on the belief that Evans' "right to a family life was not sufficient to override Mr. Johnston's withdrawal of consent." While Evans says she plans to launch another appeal with the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, the clock is ticking: In October, Evans' embryos will have been in storage for five years, when -- by British law -- they will have to be destroyed.

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit thefastertimes.com/streetfood and Signs and Wonders.

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