Posted on behalf of Michele Catanzaro.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ordered the only country in the world that completely prohibits in vitro fertilization (IVF) to lift its ban.
The court’s ruling means that Costa Rica must regulate the implementation of IVF, gradually provide it through the social security system and pay compensation to people affected by the ban in the past 12 years. The court is based in Costa Rica’s capital, San José, but rules on human-rights violations throughout Central and South America.
IVF was legal in Costa Rica between 1995 and 2000, but the country’s constitutional court prohibited it in 2000. The ban is based on the right to life since the moment of conception, recognized by article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights, because not every egg fertilized during the procedure is implanted.
In 2001, nine infertile couples presented a petition against the ban to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, resulting in a hearing at the court in September this year (see ‘Human-rights court to rule on fertility-treatment ban‘). The court’s decision, dated 28 November, was published last week.
By prohibiting IVF, Costa Rica has “violated the rights to private and family life, to personal integrity … to sexual health, to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological progress, and the principle of non-discrimination”, according to the ruling. Moreover, the court recognizes conception as the period after implantation, not after fertilization, and says that “the regulation trends in international law do not lead to the conclusion that the embryo must be treated equally as a person or that it has a right to life”.
The decision was not unanimous, as one of the six members of the tribunal voted against the ruling. However, Costa Rica cannot appeal to any higher court. “The ruling of the court will be complied in all respects,” said Francisco Chacón, Costa Rica’s communication minister.
“Reason, and the desire to build a family when it is impossible by natural means, have won”, the Latin American Network of Assisted Reproduction said in a statement responding to the ruling.
“This is an historic moment, because the court is establishing jurisprudence which may have effects at the international level”, says Fernando Zegers, head of the reproductive unit of the Las Condes Clinic in Santiago, which contributed an expert report to the trial.
Costa Rica’s Catholic Episcopal Conference ordered priests to read a statement that condemns the decision as “intrinsically incompatible with the dignity of the human person”, and IVF as “a dehumanizing procedure for the infant” in Sunday’s masses.
“The court appears to have radically changed the legal definition of conception, and is applying an artificial description to a natural process. Indeed, this could have a far reaching impact”, says Antony Caruso, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, which also submitted an expert report to the trial.
Scientists hope that the decision will set a good precedent for laws related to health, including one that would lift a ban on experiments involving humans, such as drug trials, that was first brought before the country’s parliament in 2011. “This law has not yet been discussed, but perhaps this new sentence will pave the way to unblocking it,” says Gabriel Macaya Trejos, director of the Costa Rican National Academy of Sciences in San Pedro.