Monday 18 December 2017

State picks up €2.5m bill in embryo case

But couple still faces mammoth costs over appeal

Dearbhail McDonald and Tim Healy

THE estranged married couple who fought a marathon legal battle over the fate of three frozen embryos were yesterday spared the €2.5m cost of their High Court case -- but they are still facing legal bills running into hundreds of thousands of euro.

Thomas and Mary Roche also have yet to decide whether their three remaining embryos should be destroyed.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that the State must pay the legal bill arising from the prolonged High Court action.

However, the court also ordered that each party represented in the Supreme Court leg of the litigation should bear their own costs. That leaves the Roches facing individual legal bills that may run into hundreds of thousands of euro.

The costs ruling marks the end of a landmark legal action involving the couple, who conceived a child naturally in 1997.

Ms Roche then underwent fertility treatment in 2002 and had a child, but the couple separated at around that time.

Her legal case was aimed at having the surplus embryos from that treatment implanted in her womb against the wishes of her estranged husband.

But Ms Roche lost a High Court case to force the clinic to release the embryos to her. The Supreme Court last month unanimously dismissed her appeal against that ruling.

Mr and Mrs Roche, who did not reach any agreement as to what would happen to their surplus embryos, must now decide whether to donate or destroy them.

Last night, the SIMS fertility clinic in Rathgar, where the couple had received fertility treatment, said it would store the embryos and work closely with the couple as they embark on the difficult task of deciding what to do with them.

Consent

"Those embryos deserve respect and we will continue to protect them until the couple or another entity decides their fate," said Dr David Walsh, of SIMS, who called for greater legal clarity to prevent other couples from similar agonising decisions in the future.

The clinic has not revised its consent forms in light of the ruling and said that society, through the legislature, must play a role in clarifying the moral and legal issues involved.

In his ruling on the issue of costs, the Chief Justice, Mr John Murray, said that Mr and Mrs Roche were entitled to their High Court costs against the Attorney General because of the "exceptional importance" of the public policy and constitutional issues which arose in "the unique context of the constitutional protection which might be afforded to frozen embryos".

He said that while both Mr and Mrs Roche had a personal interest in the issues, those issues surpassed "to an exceptional degree" their private interests. In those circumstances, the court would depart from the normal rule that costs go to the winning party.

Judge Murray said the Supreme Court did not consider the Attorney General should bear the costs of the entire proceedings, so it would make no order for costs against him in the Supreme Court appeal.

Given the matrimonial relationship between the Roches, the court also did not believe that Ms Roche should be required to pay the appeal costs of Mr Roche.

Irish Independent

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