Starting a family is always a huge decision for any couple, and it is for this reason that many choose to freeze embryos that have been fertilised through IVF. Often this decision is made because the couple feel they only want to start a family when they are ready to financially support children or because one of the couple have health issues, such as cancer, which requires treatment that could impact on their ability to have children naturally afterwards.
While embryo freezing may be the best option for a couple medically, fertility clinics do not always go through all of the options available nor give full advice about the consequences of embryo freezing. It is therefore important that both men and women are made aware of the legal position in respect of embryos, before taking the step of having them frozen.
Consent is key
When an embryo is created using a woman’s egg and her partner’s sperm, the consent of both parties is required for its on-going storage and use. Consent can of course only be withdrawn or varied before the embryos are used for fertility treatment. If either partner withdraws consent, there will be a cooling-off period of one year to allow the couple to decide what should happen to the embryos and, after this time, if either partner does not want the embryos to be used, they will need to be removed from storage (and cannot be used in treatment) and allowed to perish. The idea of a cooling off period is to give the couple enough time to be sure that they are making the right decision.
This is an extremely important fact to know, and is something that many couples are simply not aware of at the time of freezing embryos. Even with the best will in the world, relationships sometimes don’t work out and couples separate. In this scenario it is common for the male partner to withdraw his consent to the embryos being stored, thereby potentially leaving the female partner without the ability to have a child. The well documented case of Natalie Evans sets this out most starkly. Despite taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights, Ms Evans was unable to use the embryos frozen by her and her ex-partner, as he had withdrawn his consent to them being used.
It appeared that their Ms Evans’ fertility clinics did not explore with her and her ex-partner the unhappy possibility that the relationship may not survive, the need for consent of both parties to their embryos’ continued existence and use or the other options (such as egg freezing) which may be considered.
This is why it is essential to obtain expert advice before embarking on a decision to undertake fertility treatment such as fertilising and freezing embryos. If you are thinking of exploring these sorts of treatment, call Grayfords today and speak to one of our solicitors.