Malta violated couple’s human rights when denying IVF over woman’s age

A Maltese couple’s human rights were violated when their request to go through a second IVF cycle was rejected because of the woman’s age, the ECHR has ruled. 

In a judgement handed down on Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights found that Malta violated the couple’s right to private a family life, awarding them €8,000 in damages and a further €2,500 in costs.

The woman was 43 at the time that her request for further fertility treatment was turned down.

The couple’s story

Natasha and Gilbert Lia were married in May 2012. 

After unsuccessful attempts at having children, they were given medical advice to attempt assisted procreation in vitro fertilisation known as IVF.

In September 2014 the couple underwent a procedure known as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), at St James Conception Unit at the state’s expense. 

The treatment was provided by the government free of charge to subjects satisfying the Maltese Embryo Protection Authority’s protocol.

However, the treatment was unsuccessful and although the applicants requested another cycle of treatment, the authority refused the request.

At the time of the second request, the age bracket endorsed by Malta was between 25 and 42 years of age.

The couple, represented by lawyer Matthew Paris of Dalli Paris Advocates, argued that this was in breach of their right to family life and the right not to be discriminated against. 

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They also said that they had fulfilled the other two criteria required, namely, being married and that according to medical advice they had reasonable prospects of success.

The couple tried IVF treatment abroad but this was discontinued since it was proving too expensive, costing them €5,000 in only the first month.

The couple sought redress before the Maltese courts, but this too was unsuccessful.  

In October 2019, Malta’s Constitutional Court ruled against them, finding that the maximum age was “medically justified”. 

They then took their case to the Strasbourg based ECHR. 

What did the ECHR find?

The Lias argued that in refusing their request, Malta was violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. 

This legislation provides a right to respect for one’s “private and family life”, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society”.

The ECHR raised concerns about the Maltese system and ruled that the “interference” suffered by the applicants had not been in accordance with ”a law of sufficient quality”.

It concluded that there had accordingly been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention.

The Maltese government was represented by the State Advocate. 

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