San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Deadline approaching (again) for in vitro bill

After a standoff more than 10 years in the making, Costa Rica can stall a decision no longer. Lawmakers must pass legislation by May 31 to amend its ban against in vitro fertilization.

Costa Rica is the only country in the Americas that outlaws IVF, a medical procedure where a woman’s egg cells are artificially fertilized outside of her body. In April, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ruled that Costa Rica must either legalize the procedure or face harsh repercussions for alleged violations of human rights. The government must pass a bill that would restore the legality of IVF.

Costa Rica is one of only a handful of countries that openly professes Catholicism as their official religion. The country’s strong ties to the church helped guide the Constitutional Court’s 2000 ruling declaring IVF violates an unborn human’s right to life.

Church officials maintain human life begins at the moment of conception and that discarding or storing unused embryos is a violation of the sanctity of life.

Statistics show that about 30 percent of fertilized eggs result in a child, said Dr. Ariel Pérez, who prepares women for the procedure outside of the country. The remaining 70 percent of fertilized eggs are either frozen or discarded, he added, in an interview for an Oct. 22, 2010 Tico Times story.

Officials from the Vatican as well as Costa Rica’s own Bishops Conference have continually put pressure on the government to maintain the ban, despite international pressure against it.

On the other hand, some Costa Rican couples, finding themselves unable to conceive, claim the ban violates their entitlement to a family. Four years after the ban was passed, the U.S.-based Center for Reproductive Rights petitioned the commission to accept a case on behalf of two such Tico couples. The human rights commission ruled in favor of the couples and wrote a report in August 2010 asking the Costa Rican government to legalize the procedure.

According to the document, the commission criticized Costa Rica for maintaining a severe law that violates the right for a couple to found and maintain a family as they see fit. Prior to the international court ruling, Costa Rican officials claimed the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) justified the ban on IVF. Article 4 of the ACHR states that the right to life “shall be protected by law and in general from the moment of conception.” Costa Rica’s own civil code takes this principle one step further, stating that life shall be protected “300 days before birth.”

Costa Rica initially defended the ban. However, lawmakers eventually put forward a bill that would legalize IVF with severe restrictions. The bill establishes a limit to the number of embryos that can be created and requires all embryos to be implanted.

If Costa Rica does not comply with the report, the commission will refer the matter to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in San José, which is tasked with enforcing sanctions.

Since Robert Edwards founded IVF in 1978, more than 4 million “test tube babies” have been born in countries across the world. Edwards recently received a Pulitzer Prize in medicine for his work in the field.

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