European Court: Woman Needs Sperm Donor's Permission to Get Pregnant

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that a British woman has no right to use frozen embryos to have a baby without permission from the man who provided the sperm.

The court upheld a British law that stipulates consent from both parents is needed at every stage of the in vitro fertilization process, as well as for the storage and implantation of the fertilized eggs.

Natalie Evans, 34, had filed the case, claiming the British law breached her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. She said her right to privacy and family life and the embryo's right to life were being violated by the decision of her former fiance, Howard Johnston, to withdraw his permission for use of his sperm. She also had argued his attempt to block her having the baby was discriminatory.

Evans was left infertile after being treated for a precancerous condition, but in 2001, prior to the removal of her ovaries, six of her eggs were fertilized by Johnston's sperm through in vitro fertilization.

The couple then split up, and Johnston withdrew his consent for her to use the embryos. Evans took him to British court, but judges there rejected her legal appeals to implant an embryo, saying consent from both partners was needed and ordering the destruction of the embryos.

The European court — based in Strasbourg, France — requested a stay of the destruction order in February 2005 while it considered Evans' appeal.

The court said Tuesday it was up to national law to define when the right to life began, and that under British law an embryo does not have independent rights or interests.

The court said it had sympathy for Evans' plight, but ruled that Johnston's withdrawal of consent for the use of his sperm did not violate her right to family life as stipulated in Europe's human rights convention.

The court requested that the British government ensure the embryos are not destroyed, in case Evans appeals the case further.

Johnston said he found it hard to live with the attention the case has generated and felt relieved the court ruled in his favor.

"The key thing for me was just to be able to decide when and if I start a family. So, that's been the basis for it," he told journalists in Cheltenham, England.